How Kolkata snake charmers ‘purify’ your soul!

July 24th, 2008 - 11:32 am ICT by IANS  

By Sreya Basu
Kolkata, July 24 (IANS) Snake charmers are fast disappearing from this city, but one section that calls itself the ‘Manasar Banshadhar’ continues to hold on to the profession, claiming their intention is not to entertain but to purify souls. They, however, often end up scaring people. Manasar Banshadhar, or heirs of snake goddess Manasha, is one of the oldest communities of snake charmers here.

“Traditional snake charmers are not for entertaining people with dancing snakes. We are messengers of Goddess Manasha and have been born to purify human souls,” Hasnu Sapuria, the 96-year-old community head, told IANS.

“The sleeping snake signifies human beings’ vulnerability to sins, while the flute is the purifier that awakens the soul. The dancing snake is the purified soul that is free from all bondages and sin.”

And how the 157-year-old and 30-member strong community goes about the purification ritual is an interesting tale.

“Earlier Kolkata landlords used to invite us every Tuesday and Saturday to their homes. Special arrangements were made for us. Even fairs were held throughout the monsoon (considered the month of snakes) in our honour,” Sapuria recalled.

The community might not have too many customers now, but they still go ahead with their ’social mission’.

“Nowadays people don’t have time to communicate with us. But that doesn’t stop us from performing our duty.

“Every Sunday our boys and girls dress up like Goddess Manasha or Lord Shiva and wander through the city streets with hooded snakes like pythons, Indian cobras and Russell Vipers in baskets. They go from one person to another, take the snake out and treat a person according to the depth of their ’sin’,” Sapuria explained.

Asked about how the ‘treatment’ worked, he said: “The primary treatment is to make the person look into the snake’s eyes for five minutes. In extreme cases, we make him or her wear the snake around the neck.”

But this so-called soul purification “treatment” just scares people, forcing them to pay up like in the case of 27-year-old Barnali Roy.

“Last week I was shopping at New Market (in central Kolkata) when a snake charmer dressed as Goddess Manasha suddenly appeared with a live cobra and said I am a born-sinner,” said Barnali, a chartered accountant.

“And if I don’t give her money for my purification, she will put the snake around my neck. I was scared and got rid of her after giving Rs.50.”

Psychiatrist Anish Gupta had a similar experience.

“Once when I refused to give money to one of them, they took out a snake and started scaring my six-year-old daughter. These snake charmers should be put in jail for harassing people,” he said.

Police, however, claim they are helpless. “We have heard about this community but failed to track them down,” an official of New Market police station said on condition of anonymity.

Sapuria admitted that many people just shoo them away, but stressed that their aim was not to scare anyone.

“Most of the time people drive us away and our men return empty-handed. The situation is better off at suburbs and rural areas. We still get our share of money and respect there.”

When told that a lot of people believed all this was humbug and just another way of making money under the garb of religion and superstition, Sapuria called it “narrow-mindedness”.

“That is what you narrow-minded city people think. We know what we are doing. We are not answerable to others,” he quipped.

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