Snakes & Me

snake rescue

Snakes. What do they have to do with me? Experience tells me – something, for sure!

Serpents have spent a good amount of time inhabiting my waking imagination, my dreams…and on several occasions slithering into my everyday reality. The English word serpent probably comes from the Sanskrit word ‘serpa’, which means ‘to slither’. Close to this is the word ‘shrapa’ which means ‘curse’. In ancient India a shrapa uttered from the mouth of a Rishi was considered to be nothing but a blessing in disguise. For me, snakes are auspicious sights, blessings whether you acknowledge it or not!

The first time I met a snake or rather a group of snakes was when I was around 16. I had visited Bangalore for the first time and my mother took me to a friend’s snake farm. I was fascinated, not frightened, in awe and not at all alarmed and jumped to the offer, when the handsome curly haired, snake keeper with deep, unblinking eyes politely asked me if I would like to have his blue and yellow adult python wrap itself up my arm and shoulders!

And we clicked a group picture. Since then snake farming in India has become illegal and the young man had to wrap up his prized farm. What a shame! It’s a desire that has always haunted me – to see those snakes again. To see such a motley collection of these beautiful, silent creatures and to be able to handle and see them up close.

It is said that snakes represent desires and it’s interesting that I hold a very strong desire to be around snakes!

I once had an elaborate dream of a serpent visiting me in a laboratory. It bit me, but later we became friends. It would slide up the table full of lab paraphernalia and remain beside me. I feel I’m smitten by these much misunderstood creatures. I’ve had several dreams of suffering from snake bites but that hasn’t in the least dampened my love or respect for them.  The bite on my wrist felt so real that when I woke up the next morning I raised my right hand to study it. I could still feel the bite lingering under my thin skin.

Talking of skin, I have often collected snake skins…and still keep one in my memento box! I was raised in a city…but somehow, somewhere, the occasion always arose for me to meet a snake or find its delicate transparent moult waiting at some stray wayside spot as a gift left for me. Snakes love me and I them. Maybe I was a snake in a previous lifetime! I can feel the rhythms and movements and lives of snakes within me.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar says snakes symbolise alertness and awakened consciousness. Kundalini (dormant sexual energy) is often represented as a sleeping snake waiting to be awakened through spiritual practices. Snakes are associated with Shiva and Vishnu. In the Bhagavad Gita Lord Krishna says, “Of serpents I am Adishesha”.  This thousand headed snake on which Vishnu rests, also represents Time. It is believed that when he uncoils himself time moves ahead and when he recoils one Kalpa (cycle of time) comes to an end. The whole of existence dissolves while he remains (Adi means ‘the first’ and shesha ‘remainder’). Adishesha is also known as Anantashesha. Ananta refers to timelessness, and this idea connects with the ancient Egyptian belief that snakes were immortal (on account of their ability to renew their skin).

I consider myself a protector of snakes and am sincere in my undertaking. I cannot bear to witness any of my friends harmed or injured in any way. Killing snakes is an inexcusable crime. I feel it my duty to educate snake fearing people. The snakes that inhabit our ashram are definitely harmless. The number of poisonous snakes in the world is tiny. Of the roughly 2,900 species only 375 are poisonous. Also snakes don’t go about attacking humans without being provoked. Be gentle with snakes and they will gently pass by. Serpents like to stay away from conflicts and confrontations. It may sound strange, but I know snakes to be gentle creatures.

Snakes are Shiva’s friends and mine. A few days ago in satsang (27th May to be precise) I was sitting with my eyes closed listening to the bhajan while remembering an incident that had happened a week ago.  A watchman had killed a small snake outside an apartment complex and I had very patiently explained to him that snakes around the ashram were harmless and that in future all he had to do was to pick up the snake with his laathi and move it to a safer place. I was actually quite upset, but decided that expressing my hurt was not going to help so I prayed to God to protect all snakes from such a cruel fate. As I was remembering my prayer there was a sudden commotion on the right side of the stage and I heard someone exclaim, “saap!” I opened my eyes and saw people scattering about in the middle of the Question and Answer session with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar!

So I darted to the other side and saw a baby snake making a quick escape between so many feet and bags and shoes. People were anxious so instantly I whisked the alarmed snake by its tail and dropped it onto the stage! Every square meter of the amphitheatre was occupied; there was no space for me to walk to the shrubs at the far end. Gurudev pacified the crowd saying, “Let it be. It doesn’t even have teeth!” It’s a wonder how he could have seen the mouth which I knew only I could see when it tried to nab me. I went back to my place feeling happy – Gurudev had given me the license to catch a snake, be its guardian and quell the fears of the devotees all at once!

I feel this incident occurred as an answer to my prayer to protect snakes. The snake was even the same thickness and size as the one that had died a week ago! It was as though Gurudev was helping me relive that episode but this time with a happy ending!

Movies like Python, Anaconda, Snakes on a Plane have created an irrational dread of snakes in the human psyche. Obviously Tinsel town doesn’t like snakes or perhaps Hollywood is bent on making big bucks by giving snakes a bad name.

It is nice to make friends with the unfamiliar. That is how I first overcame my phobia for insects. I couldn’t even bear to look at a picture of one! If there was a book with pictures of insects I would be repulsed even to flip the page! My fingers would tremble, and I would feel an unpleasant flutter inside me.  I was even terrified of butterflies. But then one day I realised this was ridiculous! I thought let me just observe them without any judgement … let me go closer, have a better look. The day I faced my fear I became friends with insects. A whole new world opened up! So many new friends to meet and greet and wonder about! Life is now beautiful with insects and incomplete without them!

We embrace other people’s ideas and notions without even realising it. Children innocently play with ants and frogs. We adults spoil their play and introduce them to fear. “Keep away from this, keep away from that, this is dangerous, that is dangerous! You will fall, you will get burned, you will drown….” The whole world becomes filled in a child’s imagination with unknown dangers.

We adopt other people’s likes and dislikes without giving ourselves a chance to explore the world as it is. The world is neutral. Likes and dislikes exist in our mind and govern our lives. We are so conditioned to living by other people’s standards that something very precious and beautiful gets lost.

Let’s see the world with new eyes. Every moment a surprise is ready to jump up and embrace you! The world is just waiting for you to see it as it is. Greet life from a fresh perspective!

Let’s do something different for a change!

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