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 Punjab Shammi 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.

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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