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Scientific Significance of Nāga Chaturthī, Panchamī, and Shashṭhī

The concept of Nāga has been prevalent for about 14,000 years based on written records. Though this idea was ambiguous thousands of years ago, Nāga worship can be observed in various forms across many religions worldwide.

Primarily, we need to understand what the term 'Nāga' signifies. In ancient art, it predominantly symbolized the mind's activity within living beings. Early civilizations recognized the mind's role as the driving force of life. From the Vedic era, studies related to the mind have been ongoing. Rigveda, Yajurveda, Sāmaveda, and Atharvaveda offer supplemental information in this context. And in most cases, these studies are denoted by the term 'Nāga'.

At one point in history, the Nāga universally represented the worship of nature. Through the worship of Nāga, people sought holistic knowledge of nature. Hence, Nāga worship was essentially a tribute to nature. Apart from the inanimate form, there are four animate forms of nature. Anything that possesses life is a part of nature, and life consciousness manifests in four elements - water, fire, air, and space. These four elements are represented by the term Chaturthī. The mind operates based on the phases of the moon, and the determination of days (Tithis) also follows the lunar calendar.

The Moon embodies sixteen phases or 'kalas'. These are:

  1. Amṛtā,

  2. Mānada,

  3. Pūṣā,

  4. Tuṣṭi,

  5. Puṣṭi,

  6. Ratī,

  7. Dhṛti,

  8. Śaśini,

  9. Candrikā,

  10. Kānti,

  11. Jyotsnā,

  12. Śrī,

  13. Prīti,

  14. Aṅgada,

  15. Pūrṇa,

  16. Pūrṇāmṛta (Bhadrāyini)

When we speak of Chaturthī, it indicates that the first three phases - Amṛtā, Mānada, and Pūṣā, have passed, and the phase of Tuṣṭi emerges. 'Tuṣṭi' denotes satisfaction and contentment. To embody or attain this phase, we worship nature, primarily through the Nāga Chaturthī ritual. This act essentially captures the primary objective of original Nāga worship.

Similarly, on Nāga Panchamī and Shashṭhī, the subsequent phases of the moon are recognized, emphasizing the intricate relationship between lunar cycles, nature, and human spirituality.

The celebration of these days, hence, isn't just a mere tradition but a deeper acknowledgment of nature, mind, and the universe's interconnectedness. Through these rituals, we pay homage to the cosmic forces that govern our existence and seek alignment with the universe's rhythms.

On the fifth day, the kalas of Amṛtā, Mānadā, Pūṣā, and Tuṣṭi recede, and the influence of the Puṣṭi kala predominates. "Puṣṭi" denotes firmness. The mind grants stability to satisfaction. Thus, the kala of Tuṣṭi on the fourth day gives satisfaction to the mind, and the underlying principle that gives it firmness is the kala of Puṣṭi. Hence, as previously mentioned, when the mind feels stable after a shock, the individual remains unperturbed and happily accepts, unaware of the assailant. These reactions are tendencies formed in the mental landscape. Based on this landscape, the worship of the fifth special kala began. This kala worship corresponds to the Nāga Panchamī Puja.

Subsequently, this mental landscape was extensively explored and expanded. By mastering this mental terrain, a strategy emerged to dominate all creatures through serpent worship. When the kala of Tuṣṭi was worshiped, there was no issue during the fourth phase. The fourth is of Sātvika nature. When it transitions to Puṣṭi during the fifth phase, it transforms into a Rājasika quality. Hence, behind the kala of Puṣṭi lies the Rājasika quality, which can be both strong and weak.

In this manner, when psychologists began to torment creatures, a sixth kala, appropriate to be termed "Ṣaṣṭhī", emerged to grasp them. This kala is Subrahmaṇya, and the Ṣaḍakṣara Sūtra was employed for it. The sequence moves from Amṛtā, Mānadā, Pūṣā, Tuṣṭi, and Puṣṭi to the kala of Rati. This kala of Rati mesmerized, captured the mind's strength, and subdued psychologists. It became a global phenomenon. The universal serpent worship, which was prevalent everywhere, was eradicated at its root.

Once upon a time, serpent worship was found everywhere in the world. This was not only in India but globally. The sixth kala has the capacity to enchant even the psychologists. It's the kala of influencing tendencies. Whenever this kala is reflected in people and controls their minds, the psychologists would face a formidable force that they cannot confront.

In the past, you could find serpent worship anywhere on the planet. Not just in India, but all over the world. This sixth kala is a psychological kala of influencing tendencies. When this kala reflects upon individuals and dominates their minds, even the mental experts are spellbound. With the spread of this kala, Nāga worship has become scarce and virtually disappeared from the global landscape.

The Enigma of Chitrakūṭa and Nāga Worship

Chitrakūṭa is the term given to a place consecrated to the Nāga deity. Notably, one-fourth of this area is designated as a 'nikṣēpa'. The term 'chitra' translates to the number five. The ritualistic formations of 'Gajaśālā' (Elephant clay), 'Aśvaśālā' (Horse clay), 'Gōśālā' (Cow clay) are believed to represent celestial realms, while the 'Valmīka' (ant hill clay) and 'Nadī taṭāka' (river bank clay) symbolize the underworld. When these five chambers are established, it becomes Chitrakūṭa. Additionally, 'chitra' also means color. Within the construct of the Nāga, five distinct colors are observed:

1. The eyes of the Nāga appear red.

2. The tongue of the Nāga is black.

3. Its body color is predominantly yellow.

4. The abdominal region is white.

5. Near the head, where the venom duct is, it's green, with its skin appearing blue on top.

These five colors are visually discernible on a serpent. However, the quintessential essence lies beyond the mere appearance of the snake. It is these five colors that are harmonized during the Nāga worship rituals. Although the primal essence is extracted from Chitrakūṭa in its natural form annually, it is not in the form of a Nāga. In the 'Kambalādi' eight-clan Nāga worship, a plant is cultivated, which is then transformed into a 'vaṭi' or a natural manifestation. This 'vaṭi' can manifest in five qualitative forms, hence referred to as 'Pañcavaṭī'. Among these, one form is the physical representation of a Nāga. Correspondingly, the Nāga emerges in accordance with the five elements separated from nature. As it manifests in five different forms, it remains elusive. This transformational process is termed 'vaṭi'.

Worship and reverence are extended to the Nāga. In the future oriented worship, service in the form of 'ḍhakkebali' could be offered to the Nāga. When it becomes a 'Pañcavaṭī', it assumes the role of a Nāga. When it evolves into a Yakṣa (nature spirit), it becomes eligible for the 'ḍhakkebali' service. For a Nāga to evolve into a Yakṣa, it must first traverse the ancestral realm. To do this, the Nāga must first attain the ancestral stage. Here, the five fundamental elements - space (Ākāśa), air (Vāyu), fire (Agni), water (Jala), and earth (Bhūmi) illuminate the sensory elements of sound, touch, form, taste, and smell, respectively. By worshiping through these sensory elements, the Nāga approaches the ancestral realm. Thus, the practice of revering the Nāga in its ancestral form has flourished, where elders are shown respect in the patriarchal tradition. In the ancestral realm, the process of evolution continues, leading to the complete transformation of the Nāga into a Yakṣa.

The Nāga in Present Form (Vartamāna)

The present state (Vartamāna) of being is referred to as Nāga. This is of a sātvika nature. In the early hours of the Brahma muhūrta, the Nāga manifests in a pure sātvika mental form. It is then worshipped with the playing of the ḍamaru (a small drum). After the establishment of the Nāga on the Panchamī (fifth lunar day), the eight kula Nāgas, including Kambala, are venerated. This worship includes musical instruments, orchestras, chants, playing of the maūri, offerings, and flower rituals.

Subsequently, with the panchāṅga nyāsa ritual, the Nāga takes on the form of the ancestors, signifying the past (Bhuta). This form is rājasika in nature. Hence, after the morning ritual, you encounter only the rājasika form of Nāga-pitṛu. Post midday, after the kośanāsya ritual, it assumes the form of a yakṣa representing the future (Bhavishyat). This yakṣa form possesses tāmasika energy. This Nāga-form yakṣa is praised through songs, rhythmic dances, and is heralded with state honors and proclamations.

On the day of Nāga Chauthi, it is said that digging the earth is prohibited. Nothing from the earth should be extracted. On this day, the Nāga, symbolizing inherent nature, is worshipped. Until then, the Nāga representing the mind remains dormant within the earth, signifying a latent state. During this time, it's customary to offer milk to the anthill and perform its worship. This is because the Nāga (or the mind) becomes one with nature. Understand the implication? It emerges on Panchamī, having no relation to the earth then. But in some regions, they offer milk from Panchamī itself. This is due to regional variations, but the intention behind the practice remains consistent everywhere.

The concept of not digging the earth also exists on Nāga Ṣaṣṭhī day in certain regions. However, there is no direct connection between the earth and Ṣaṣṭhī. There, the celebration is in the form of Nāga Bhavya, a ritual in the Keralite tradition, majorly conducted at night. Yet, in South Karnataka, post midday, many don't worship the Nāga. Why? Because it represents the Nāga in its current form (Vartamāna Swaroopa).

Naga Worship and Cow Traditions in Dakshina Kannada

For some time, the serpent deity (Nāga) in Dakshina Kannada was prohibited from being offered any dairy products. During those times, only water that had been purified by filtering through a white cloth (jēḍi) was used for abhisheka (ritualistic anointment) for the serpent deity. In such circumstances, the panchagavya (a mixture derived from five products of the cow) was prepared using water filtered through this cloth. As a symbolic offering for milk, the ritual would involve offering "hāliṭṭu sēvē," which means rice flake milk, a milk derived from puffed rice. There's an example of this in the Mahābhārata too. Ashvatthāma drank this very milk until he turned 14 years old. The nutritious benefits of milk can also be derived from the milk prepared by boiling rice. Later on, coconut milk also came into use.

The Vedas suggest that the coastal region (Karāvaḷi) isn't an ideal place for cow herding. It's a region characterized by saline water and a warm climate. Hence, traditionally, it was challenging to maintain cow herding in the coastal area. So, they would often consume a milk substitute made from a mixture of rice and jēḍi (white cloth filtered water). Later, various ruling dynasties influenced the traditions of Dakshina Kannada. The Kadambas, who originated from the Rāṣṭrakūṭa region where dairy was not prevalent, arrived in Banavāsi. They introduced suitable dietary practices and began using dairy products after learning the way of life as described by the Bōdhāyana sūtras. During the times of the Banavāsi Kadambas and the Pallavas, dairy farming gained prominence in the Dakshina Kannada region, and cow milk became widely used. Its fame even spread to Saurāshtra. By then, the practice of offering milk to serpent idols became commonplace. A residue of this practice still exists today; some communities in Dakshina Kannada don't consume milk or yogurt. In some places, eggs and such are offered to the serpent deity. However, this might be the result of integrating practices from other regions; originally, such offerings were not part of the fundamental serpent worship.

The Serpent Symbolism and the Mind

The mind operates with the support of its four chariots, which are the four senses. When visualized, an active mind is represented by a serpent with its hood raised. However, when the serpent lowers its hood, the mind (or consciousness) is dormant.

As humans tread on the path of spirituality from a life of mundane existence, they realize that conquering the mind makes it a jewel in their crown. Lord Shiva, having achieved this mastery, adorns the serpent as an ornament. In contrast, Lord Ganapati, symbolic of nurturing the world, ties the serpent around his belly, indicating the limitations of worldly nourishments.

Subrahmanya (or Kartikeya) harnesses the diverse, erratic tendencies of the mind, symbolized by holding the peacock's (or mayura’s) leash. Lord Vishnu, reclining on Adishesha (the serpent with multiple heads), represents a mind at peace, where the undulating desires are kept in check. The serpent, also seen as the progeny of the god of love, Madana, is a continuous source of nurturing to the world. The thousand-headed Adishesha signifies the depth of the mind's operations – so profound and countless. It holds up the weight of the Earth, symbolizing numerous mental distinctions and predispositions.

This analogy between serpents and the mind's intricate operations further extends to the concept of serpent paths (Nāga pathas) influencing the mental realm. There's a special influence of these paths in regions like South Karnataka, indicating a need for serpent worship to achieve mental stability. Areas like Kālāvara and Kandāvara have prominently recognized serpent energy points. These paths and the practices associated with them find extensive mention in the Vedic science of Earth (geology). Only with a balance of this energy can disturbances be prevented. Temples, rituals, pujas, and festivals serve as scientific processes to ensure this balance.

To cleanse oneself isn't just about taking a bath or wearing fresh clothes. Just as a snake sheds its old skin, purification of the mind is the true cleansing. With this purification, the entire world becomes pure. The very purpose of serpent worship is to achieve this purification. If mastered, one can become a healer of the world using this serpent energy.

Describing further, the infinite nature of the serpent would keep unfolding in its vastness.

(Original Author: Brahma Rushi K S Nityananda Swamiji, Purvottariya Meemaamsaka, founder of Veda Vijnana Mandira, Chikmagalur)

Translated & compiled by

Hemanth Kumar G

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