Thursday, March 19, 2009

Snakes in Assamese Belief

An Indian cobra in a basket with a snake charmer.
There are numbers of stories and beliefs in Assam connected to snakes. Many people in Assam are worshipers of Manasa or Maroi, the snake-goddess. Sometimes the Assamese people consider the snake as a sacred creature and in certain circumstances it is not killed. All people in the region, whether in the hills or the plains, have accumulated experience about snakes making it a part of their culture. They express it in various ways.

Snake and Earthquake

To the Hindus, Vasuki the serpent is supporting on his hood the earth from below from the nether world. It is a common belief that if Vasuki shakes himself there is an earthquake. There ara many tribes who believe in the supernatural power of an imaginary snake-god. The Mishimis think that the earth is resting on a pillar; an enormous snake sometimes gets angry and shakes that pillar; we then feel the earthquake and many people die. Some Kukis also imagine that a snake stays coiled around the earth; at times it bites its own tail and getting hurt begins to shake which causes an earthquake.

The cobra

The Indian cobra, Naja naja
To an average Assamese, cobras, when seen in pairs, are keepers of his Bhoral, paddy store-house (barn); if they are about, the stores will be abundant; he will not harm them. Some old shrines or even new Namghars are frequently visited by pythons or other big snakes; some are even residents there in some unexplored dark corner. They are not to be killed; devotees are firm in their belief that these snakes will never harm those who come to pray. Killing cobras is unacceptable to Assamese Vaishnavas, as Srimanta Sankardeva, their first and foremost guru, was once provided shade by a cobra with its hood. The infant Krishna in his father’s bosom was protected from rains by the serpent’s hood while he was being secretly taken to Nanda’s house. When an Assamese woman is pregnant, her family will not kill a snake for fear that the new arrival may not be a perfect child. Several Naga tribes too hold such beliefs.

Mating snakes

If you spy upon a mating couple of snakes, it is a very good sign for victory in love and war. Your throw a cloth over or near them; later you wrap yourself with it and you are sure to win in love or war. In ancient Assamese sculptures, mating snakes were engraved as symbols of fertility.

In tribal culture

Many tribal people carve snake-images on handles of Daos and spears. The famous Snake Pillar of Sadiya, dated 1532AD erected as a mark of truce between the Ahoms ans the Mishimis, is another fine example, now removed to the Assam Museum at Guwahati. Among the Khasis, U Thlen, the snake-god is worshipped by offering human blood. Formerly human sacrifices were also made to him. The Mizos believe that seeing mating snakes means serious illness, if not death; killing them brings bad luck. Some Nagas will not till a piece of land being cleared for cultivation if they come across a snake in the field as, to them, it means certain death.


A man dying of snakebite is considered unlucky in Assam. The Hindus will not consign his mortal remains to the fire, but will bury him; some people even float him on a rafter of banana trunks in the river. This is how the story of Sati-Beula goes.

In other beliefs

Snake poison and slough are sometimes used as medicine, particularly to succeed with woman. Seeing a snake in a dream may mean conflicts with one’s best friend.

In folk-tales

Lilith with a snake
There are a number of folk-tales about snakes, the tale of Champavati and Sati Beula being the most representative.

Tale of Champavati

A big snake that ultimately succeeded in marrying her coveted Champavati’s hand. In fact, the snake was a disguised god who bestowed on her immense wealth. Champavati had a step-sister whose envious mother also decided to marry her daughter to a snake. A big snake was captured and the unfortunate girl was “married off”, but she was devoured.

Tale of Sati Beula

When her husband Lakhindar was bitten to death by the venomous Kalinaga, Beula accompanied him on his rafter of banana-trunks floating on the seas in search of the gods in order to restore him to life. Tradition has it that Beula and her father-in-law Chand Sadagar the Bania were residents of Chhayagaon, some 36 miles west of Guwahati.


  1. nice .........plz any 1 give me the name of both venomus and non-venomus snakes found in nrth-est basically in assam with photos and local name. plz if any 1 has send it to