Nagulachavithi festival

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Andhra festival turns into death trap for snakes every year

Sulogna Mehta, TNN | Nov 5, 2013


VISAKHAPATNAM: Nagulachavithi may be a festival aimed at worshipping the snake god but it heralds a torturous time for hundreds of snakes, many of whom die or are rescued half dead after the festival as they are treated in violation of Wildlife Protection Act in the name of worship.

In 2013, animal rights organizations in collaboration with the forest department, kicked off awareness campaigns in advance and are promoting snake idols among devotees for the upcoming festival on November 7. They have also planned raids early on the morning of November 7 to rescue the captured and starving snakes.

According to animal experts, every year, about a fortnight prior to the festival, snake charmers confine the snakes in baskets and keep them without food and water. They also pull out the fangs and slit open the venom sacs unscientifically, due to which the reptiles suffer from ulcers in the mouth, septicemia infections and die. The snake charmers then collect money from devotees by brandishing the half-dead snake, which swallows the milk offered by devotees as it is dehydrated and starving.

Visakha Society for Protection and Care of Animals (VSPCA) secretary Pradeep Nath said, "Every year, hundreds of snakes suffer and die after Nagulachavithi. A few years ago, we rescued 243 snakes during the festival. As part of the festival, milk and eggs are offered to the starving snakes. Snakes are captured around 10 days prior to the festival. Their fangs are taken out and on the festival day they are offered eggs and milk amidst bursting of crackers, smoke and vermilion. The starving snakes develop severe health problems and mouth ulcers."

"People resent when they are asked not to worship snakes as it pertains to religious sentiments. So, we are promoting worshipping of snake idols and pictures instead of real snakes and in some temples and snake pits, clay idols or silver idols of snakes are now being used," averred Nath.

City based snake catcher Rokkam Kiran Kumar said, "Last year, I rescued seven snakes from the city, including cobras, vipers as well as non-venomous ones, on Nagulachavithi. Besides trying to create awareness among people about not worshipping real snakes and not feeding them milk, we will also try to control the sale of eggs to roadside eateries after these are offered to the snakes." According to the forest department, every month around 20-30 snakes are rescued and during festive occasions like Nagulachavithi, 40-50 snakes are rescued from different areas in the district. "In order to protect the snakes, we have kept a striking force ready. Teams have been formed in different forested mandals, each comprising five tribal members and led by one forest section officer. A vehicle has been provided to each team," said Vizag divisional forest officer (DFO) Md Thayyab.

"The teams will work on tip-offs as well as their own information to rescue tortured or captured wild animals and snakes and release them into forest. According to the Wildlife Protection Act, capturing or harming wild, endangered animals protected under Schedule 1 and 2 are punishable offences for which violators can be prosecuted. We will also conduct raids on the morning of the festival at various places of worship," he added.

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