Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Snake Charmers

Snakes of the World - Part 9

Snake Charmers image courtsey: radified.com

The Snake Charmers

Whom do they charm?

Once upon a time some people used to call India as the land of diseases and snake -charmers. Snake charming was such a popular art which was performed in all nook and corners of the land. More than a job this was deeply enrooted in the culture of some of the tribes (the Irulars of Tamilnadu and the Sapera or Sapukela tribes and the Mehers of North India etc). These tribes got sidelined in the Indian society when education, development and civilization swept other people to rapid progress. Thousands of people belonging to these tribes did not know anything else for a living.

Not just charmers but big orators!

Though rare even these days a snake charmer could be found here or there occasionally. They carry flat bamboo-boxes with lids containing some of the most venomous as well as non-venomous snakes. They take out the non-poisonous snakes by hand and fondle them to frighten the viewers who were ignorant that those were non-poisonous ones! Most of the snake charmers used to come from the remotest villages of Tamilnadu or North India. Prior to the show they generally make a speech about snakes and the magical medicines they possess.

A life out of snakes.

Snake Charmers image courtsey: willemsweb.com

Those from Tamilnadu usually wore plain-cloth, whereas those from North India wore a very long cloth (dhoti) around the legs and waist. They usually sported enormous head-gears. Almost all had dark-green tattoos on their body parts depicting snakes and some religious signs (either to impress the spectators or it would have been the custom with those tribes). They worship snakes (consider Sri Gulabgar nath as their guru) live entirely depending on the snakes they carry along with. The charmers usually wear ear-rings and wore colorful attire (often torn or much soiled).

Protection only for animals!

Irula Tribe image courtsey: derby.ac.uk

The animal protection act passed in India in 1972 banned the job a punishable crime which could invite seven years imprisonment virtually made these tribes out of their only livelihood. Recently in Chekkidedu in Haryana hundreds of snake charmers demonstrated against the Government for taking up and solving their burning issues, this event attracted world wide attention as they carried snakes along with them.

A musician v/s the dancer!

Some of them carried a shaped stick on their shoulder and at both ends of the stick several flat bamboo-boxes were packed one over the other all loaded with snakes, some snakes were very colorful. Cobras were the favorites of the crowds and the star attraction among the snakes (It is said that they periodically pull the fangs out prior to taking them for the shows). The cobras with their hoods spread wide stood frowning upon the music-player moving their heads along with the charmer for the wonders of the crowd.

No ears but all ears for music!

The snake charmers carry a special musical wind-instrument called the “makudi” (pungi) it is believed that the snakes dance as per the tune of music played by the charmer on his makudi. (The bewildered spectators do not know the fact the snakes are deaf and they move as per the movement of the pungi’s movements as watchful as they were waiting for a chance to strike at the makudi blower!).

Business as usual, selling poison-stones!

Children constituted the bulk of the spectators and were enthralled by the speeches and actions of the charmers. The charmers as clever they are do some business along with the show! They carry some materials to be sold (said to be poison stones) and claim that if it is placed on the body-part bitten by snake that will suck out the poison as a blotting paper sucks ink. Some people buy the “poison-stones” and keep it for an occasion to use. The charmer leaves after getting some money from the crowd (some by selling the “poison stones”) and moves to another location.

True lies!

There are touts among them who secretly let loose snakes in to other people’s courtyard and levy hefty fees for retrieving the snakes. These charmers are the main source of the strange folklores those that spread about the snakes –most of them too silly even children may scoff off! But there are adults who believe such stories and submit before these frauds losing a lot of money while obeying the dictates of these touts.

Curse of the snakes! (Charmers without snakes)

Indian villagers are mostly illiterates, when a snake is found somewhere in their yards they approach these local “astrologers” for advice, the stock reply of these people are the “your family has a curse of the snakes as your forefathers have committed big cruelties towards them”, the bewildered villager asks for any amicable settlement to the “crime”.

The reply will be in lines “you can go to pilgrimage to snake temples (probable distant places) and do big offerings to the snake gods. In the end the “astrologer casually says that he as a routine visit these temples and if they are prepared to entrust the offerings with him, he may carry it to the temple as a gesture of goodwill! The whole offerings (in gold and cash) thus reach the hands of the “astrologer”!

Milch-cows with fangs!

Some of the tribals like the “Irulars” of Tamilnadu have been got settled by various Government schemes. And they no more have to wander with their snakes. The schemes planned by the Adayar snake-park near Chennai are very innovative. They have a lot of former charmers in their payrolls and they form co-operative societies. These societies are for marketing the venom the charmers collect from the snakes which freely live in the nearby areas (these places are rich in snake population. After milking the poison the snakes are let free and venom marketed by the society.

A win win situation!

Milking Snake for venom image courtsey: avru.org

These snakes are free and will be caught by the “Irulars” for the next milking! The Institute gets the highly costly cobra-poison in a reasonable rate by their innovative technique! The Irulars also are benefited as they no longer have to wander with the snakes, just go catch a snake and milk it as per requirement! The snake is kept in a mud-pot for a fortnight and let it go after 3 or 4 milking by that time. What a win win situation, both for the Institute and for the Irulars! A good thing for the cobras too as they are let free after the milking. The Institute has designed other welfare schemes for the tribe’s welfare.

To be continued...


Tawnya Shields said...

That was some great information! I truly learned a lot from your post. I enjoy learning about cultures allover the world.

Thank you.

Fran "the man" said...

you have a nice blog too. i especially like the wwe posts the most. you should really do one on wrestle mania. either way you keep up the good work too.

Unknown said...


I am patying back the visit. It look interesting, so will come back to read about snakes and stuff.

In the meanwhile, I put you in my blogroll. and tag you for the meme-thing.

Guayomin said...

cool stuff you have in your blog aswell! Wow, always amazing when you learn something new!
Cheers and keep it up!!

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KLCDC said...

HI, I'm in Chennai now. Do you know where I can find some snake charmers?