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Snakes in Indian Mythology and folklore have a very important place. They are a reason to fear, venerate, worship and propitiate. Seen as a sign of fertility and long life there are innumerable stories and myths related to them. Being predominantly an agricultural society, it is no wonder that the people living in India worshiped the snakes in the rainy season. We celebrated Nag Panchmi on the 19th of August 2015. The following story was used as a parable by the Saint Ramkrishna Paramhans. He was a 19th Century Saint and Swami Vivekananda was his disciple.
I read this story years ago but the story has stayed with me as it is equally relevant today. A long time ago there was a small village near a forest. The people living there were farmers and used to tend their fields. The children would take their cows and goats with the dogs to the forest for grazing every morning. They would play games while the cattle grazed and would come home in the evening. If anybody wanted to go to another village the path was through the forest.
Now in this forest besides other wild animals there also lived a big fat snake. He was full of poison and if anybody came close he would hiss loudly and scare everybody. The snake had also killed some villagers by biting them. He was very bad tempered and used to harass people without any reason. This was the reason that all the villagers and also the children did not go anywhere near the snake.
One day as the children were in the forest with their cows they saw a learned man walking towards the tree where the snake lived. They ran towards him and said..
“ Pranam Guruji”
The sadhu was surprised and acknowledged their greetings.
“Pranam, what can I do for you?” he asked
The boys said
“ Guruji please do not go this way. If you have to go, please avoid the Banyan tree. A great big poisonous snake lives there. He is very scary and bites without any provocation”
The Sadhu thought for a moment and then proceeded towards the Banyan tree. On hearing the approaching footsteps the snake came out of his burrow with his hood open and began to hiss loudly. The sadhu looked the snake in the eye and started reciting some Mantra. After some time the children were surprised to see that the snake calmed down and lay quietly at the Sadhus feet.
The sadhu asked the snake
‘Why are you so angry and why do you scare people without any cause? When no one troubles you why do you have to kill people without any reason?”
The snake said...
“I am very poisonous and I like that everybody is frightened of me. The way everybody runs from me makes me feel important. After all God made me poisonous to frighten people’
The sadhu told the snake
‘You know I feel you have misused your gift of poison. You are not supposed to frighten anybody unnecessarily. You are also not supposed to kill without reason. The poison is to protect you. You cannot cause undue harm. God is not going to be happy with you. I will give you some mantras and when you repeat it you will no longer be so violent’.
The snake thought over the Sadhu’s words and then said
“I am sorry Guruji, I have indeed behaved very badly. I became proud and a bully for something which is a gift from God to me. I will now turn over a new leaf. I will not frighten or bite people.’ So saying, the snake went into his burrow. The Sadhu went on his way after promising to come again, and the children returned home to narrate the day’s incident to their parents
The snake became spiritual and changed his ways. The children noticed that the snake was no longer hissing when he saw them. Neither was it twitching his tongue to frighten. On seeing this change the children threw stones at him to see his reaction. When the snake still did not hiss they beat it with sticks. The snake now a converted soul did not retaliate. One day the children caught the snake by its tail and swung it around hitting it on a stone. They then left it for dead and went home.
The snake had fainted and was badly hurt. When it regained consciousness it crawled into its burrow. Now it only came out at night and ate whatever it could find. No one now saw him and it became very weak and thin.
After some time passed the Sadhu arrived at the village and on seeing the boys asked
“I hope the snake does not trouble you now. After I spoke to him I am sure he is a good snake’
One of the boys said
‘Guruji the snake is now dead and it has been dead for some time’
The Sadhu found it hard to believe that the snake was dead and decided to go and look for it. He went to the forest near the burrow and started calling out to the snake. After sometime the snake crawled out and the Sadhu was shocked to see that it was now very thin and looked very ill. It could barely crawl. The sadhu asked
“My friend what has happened to you? When I met you last you were very healthy and had a beautiful skin. You looked young and now you look very old’
The snake was very happy to see the Sadhu and replied
‘I followed your advice and stopped harassing everybody. Even when they beat me I did not retaliate. So I became like this’
The Sadhu said to the snake
‘What a big fool you are. I told you not to bite and scare people without reason. But you have to protect yourself. I did not ask you to renounce your nature or your natural instinct.’
So the moral of the story is harm no one and do not let others harm you. It is your duty to protect yourself. Do not bully others in anticipation of being hurt.