Pambummekkattu Mana and the cult of Snake worship in Kerala.


 Pambumekkattu mana.Kerala.

Ophiolatry is defined as the worship of  or attribution of divine or sacred nature to snakes and the practice is widespread globally.  more so across India. Snake worship is reported from many cultures 

No doubt, snake worship  is intertwined with  certain mythological episodes of Hinduism.  The belief and culture are  so deep rooted you can hardly find a  Hindu temple particularly, in Tamil Nadu  or elsewhere  where  there are  no  stone  carved images  of serpent - Cobra (Naja Naja) as substitutes. Positively one will find some sculptures linked with serpents. They are set in a selected part on the prakara- pradakshina path in the temple and devotees, mostly women,  offer flowers to them and pray. Some stone images are covered with turmeric paste and kungumam. The belief has been that the snake (naga or Cobra)  symbolizes cycles of  rebirth and  death, besides  mortality.  Their natural casting off its  its outer skin is  equal to rebirth. or "reborn". A female nāga is a nāgīn, but the word naga is widely used to refer to the Cobra in mythological stories. 

God Vishnu on the coiled bed of Adishesha.

God Shiva with snake garland.

Cambodia. Churning of the ocean of milk

.Churning of the ocean of milk,Samudra Manthana
In the Hindu mythology,  Shesha or Adi Shesha is the first king of the Nagas; Manasa being his sister.  Vasuki is  the second king of the Nagas in Hinduism. In Hindu iconography, he is generally depicted coiling around the neck of  God Shiva, who is believed to have blessed and worn him as an ornament.  Adi Shesha with his hood  is depicted as forming the coiled bed  on which Vishnu  is taking a nap - this posture is often referred to as Ananda sayanam (Sayana nithira). In the mythological  episode of  Samudra Manthana (churning of the milk of ocean by the Devas and Asuras to get Amrit - elixir of life,  naga king Vasuki plays a vital role. Kaliya or Kalinga, is yet another snake  associated with the childhood pranks of God Krishna.  Krishna's kalinga narthanam is a famous one and the child god is said to have  subdued Kalinga and made him to leave the river Yamuna.   Nag Panchami is observed by Hindus around the world as the day of worship of snakes and serpents. Celebrated on fifth day in Shukla Paksha in the month of Shravana, it has fallen in July. 

Naga Panchami, India,

Sri Krishna and Kalinga nardhana.

Snake worship is popular in Kerala and  many houses have small shrines dedicated to serpents called  Sarpakavu.

The temple at Manansala, believed to have been built by Parasurama, is located about 40 km from Alappuzha Town and near to the town of Haripad, Kerala. It is  an ancient temple  exclusively dedicated to snakes /serpents. Home to more than 80,000 small stone carved with images of snakes  installed  around the temple in a wooded area by the couples blessed with a baby after prayer here. It is said that snake bites seldom occur here and the serpents guard the property of the temple.  According to the legend the area was full of snakes and the water was salty so people were afraid to stay here. Sage  Parasurama propitiated the king of snake Vasuki who told him that the snakes would continue to stay here and won't hurt people in the village. Subsequently the water also became potable. the strange tradition here is  puja rituals are conducted by a female priest from a hereditary Nambudiri family. Widely known as Manansala Amma (mother), she  has the authority to open once a day the dark room where a snake is purported to have been  living. Uruli Kamizhthal is a unique worship performed by childless couples at this temple. Seeking fertility, the couples  come to this temple in large numbers for intense worship and prayer and many of them get blessed with a baby.

Manansala snake temple,Harpad Kerala.

Mala Town of Thrissur district in Kerala is popular for  the Nagaraja temple named Pambummekkattu Mana  and  devotees make a beeline to this temple which is said to be the abode of the God of Snakes, Vasuki and His consort, Nagayakshi. The Pambummekkattu Mana with a spread of  above 6 acres, has  five   different Serpent Kavus,The wooded area with lush green plants and trees provide a fitting natural habitat for the reptiles. Also living in this habitat are 1000 bats. This mana, is actually situated in Vadama village, 11 km from Chalakkudy,

The legend has it Mekkattu Mana, as it was known earlier wanted to mitigate their poverty as well as those  living there. The head of the family  Mekkattu Nampoothiri did  penance at Thiruvanchikulam temple of Ernakulam. After a lapse of 12 years one night he saw a stranger holding a resplendent gem. Being inquisitive he got the gem from the stranger and took a close look. The gem happened to be a mythical one Nagamanikya (in Tamil Manikkakakal), a serpent stone. After scrutiny,  he returned to the stranger, Following day a chance encounter with the stranger surprised the Nambudiri brahmin, The stranger was none other than  Vasuki, the serpent who serves as the garland of Lord Shiva and is also known as one of the kings of serpents.  Upon Mekkattu Nambudiri's  humble request to be present  at his illam snake god Vasuki then agreed to stay in the kizhakkini (eastern room) of Mekkattu Illam and bless his mana and the village with prosperity. Both Vasuki and naga yakshi in the form of snake accompanied him to his house. At the mana since then one can see two ever-burning oil lamps and  daily rituals to please them. Thus the Mekkattu Mana was renamed as  Pambumekkattu mana.

The myth holds sway even today. Notwithstanding the presence of  thousands of snakes in this area neither the  family  members of  Pambummekkattu Mana nor  devotees coming to this place  have not reported any snake bite.  Even if rarely bitten, the venom does not affect them, Devotees use the oil from the lamps to cure skin diseases caused by snakes, etc.  On certain occasions devotees will be allowed to enter the temple with the wet clothes after a dip in the adjacent pond.  The oil from the lamps in the sanctum, which are always lit, is used  as medicine for skin diseases.  A shrine dedicated to Goddess Bhadrakali is also located here.

As in Manansala, the main offering here is noorum paalum (offered only during auspicious days) and kadali pazham (a type of banana).

Important  dates of worship are: Ayiliyam in Kanni Masam, first day of Vrichika Masam, Thiruvonam to Bharani in the month of Meenam and Medam 10th are the important dates in the temple.  Just like the kedavilakku at Vetticode temple, the oil and ash from the lamp at Pambummekkattu Mana are considered auspicious and given as prasad to devotees; they are also being used as medication for skin diseases such as psoriasis.

The other snake temple are: Karippal Nagam, Kannur district, Naganbozhi, Nagankulangara (deity: Nagayakshi) close to Cherthala town, Alappuzha and Vettikodu Nagarajan (established by Parasurama on a plot six acres of wooded land. Sarpabali and Naga Sarpa Dosha rituals are popular. Rituals, etc  are done by the Karanavar of the temple who is the chief priest.

In most of the temples Ayilyam festival is an important one and it comes in the Malayalam month of Dhanu -Ayilyam star.


Kukke Subramanya temple, Karnataka

The snake worship is not confined to Kerala and in Karnataka Kukke Subramanya (IAST: Kukke Subrahmaṇya) is a famous Hindu temple. Located in the village Subramanya  of Kadaba taluk (Earlier in Sullia taluk) in Dakshina Kannada district here  Kartikeya is worshipped as Subramanya, lord of all serpents. The legend has it  that the divine serpent Vasuki and other serpents found refuge under Subramanya when threatened by the Garuda. The priests in the temple are Shivalli Madhva Brahmins they conduct  daily rituals in the temple as per Madhvacharya's Tantra Sara Sangraha.  Kaalasarpa dosha ceremonies performed here as per the wish of the devotees.