Hindu devotees are gathering at temples across India to celebrate Nag Panchami, or the snake festival. Snake charmers have been sitting outside temples as devotees queue up to offer milk to the serpent gods and seek their blessings. Some devotees fed milk to the snakes out of their hands.

Nag Panchami Hindu snake festival
A man pours milk for a python to drink in Jalandhar, in the northwestern Indian state of PunjabShammi Mehra/AFP

The festival pays homage to the animal that is associated with one of the principal deities of Hinduism, Lord Shiva who is most often depicted with a hooded cobra draped around his neck. Devotees of the god, the 'destroyer and transformer', visit temples where they worship stone figures of snakes, as well as live ones. Worshippers offer milk, rice and flowers to the reptiles in exchange for blessings and protection for their families.

While all snakes are venerated, people pray to twelve snakes, in particular which are mentioned by name in Hindu scriptures: Ananta, Vasuki, Adishesha, Padma, Kambala, Karkotaka, Ashvatara, Dhritarashtra, Shankhapala, Kaliya, Takshaka, and Pingala.

Nag Panchami Hindu snake festival
The son of a snake charmer holds a cobra around his neck in Kapari village, around 40km southwest of Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh state, IndiaSanjay Kanojia/AFP
Nag Panchami Hindu snake festival
A Hindu priest performs a ritual in front of a stone figurine of the serpent deity Adishesha at the Mukthi Naga temple on the outskirts of BangaloreManjunath Kiran/AFP
Nag Panchami Hindu snake festival
A monkey sitting on consecrated idols of snakes drinks milk offered by a devotee during the Hindu festival of Nag Panchami at a temple on the outskirts of BangaloreAbhishek N. Chinnappa/Reuters
Nag Panchami Hindu snake festival
Hindu devotees make various religious offerings to an ant hill which is believed to be the abode of the serpent deity Adishesha at the Mukthi Naga temple on the outskirts of BangaloreManjunath Kiran/AFP
Nag Panchami Hindu snake festival
People offer a cobra some milk during the annual Nag Panchami festival outside the Nagvasuki temple, in AllahabadSanjay Kanojia/AFP
Nag Panchami Hindu snake festival
An Indian Hindu devotee pours milk on a snake as an offering during the annual Nag Panchami festival outside the Nagvasuki temple, in AllahabadSanjay Kanojia/AFP
Nag Panchami Hindu snake festival
Hindu devotees pour milk over a statue of a cobra at a temple in AmritsarNarinder Nanu/AFP
Nag Panchami Hindu snake festival
A devotee puts turmeric paste on stone figurines of the serpent deity Adishesha at the Mukthi Naga temple on the outskirts of BangaloreManjunath Kiran/AFP

Snakes are regarded as having divine qualities in Jainism and Buddhism too, as it is believed that a cobra saved the life of Lord Buddha and another protected the Jain Tirthankara, Parshwanath.

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