Snakes play a major role in religious lore
The very interesting feature article 'Snakes and Charms' in the Daily
News of January 22 should have drawn the attention of readers interested
in and appreciative of snakes, a word whose very mention brings fright
and awe to the minds of many people who always think that all snakes,
whether poisonous or otherwise, are mere harbingers of death and
disaster, fright and awe.
It is timely that we created a renewed interest among us about this
slimy and feared reptile of the jungles. It will also be beneficial for
us to think about the manifold service of snakes to mankind down the
Contrary to the negative and obnoxious ideas about snakes of various
skin colourations, lengths and other physical features it must be
remembered that this ever doomed and cursed slithering creature whose
mere sight palpitates our heartthrobs also bestows many benefits to man.
Snakes are crawling creatures that fascinate and repel human beings
throughout the world particularly in the tropical and African regions
where they are still found in abundance. It is well known that any
encounter with a snake, whether harmless or otherwise, fills one with
terror and awe, particularly because if venomous, its sting or bite is
fatal and once it enters the blood stream very often the victim dies.
Some snakes particularly the mighty cobra which is dreaded throughout
the world is highly respected, especially in the Asian countries such as
India and Sri Lanka and it has been elevated to the status of a god in
certain religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism which have a large stock
of lore about the reptile and from time immemorial Asian religious lore
has it that the cobra has been a protective animal of even gods
throughout the ages.
While the majority of snakes are said to be poisonous some of them
are absolutely harmless. It is said that immediately after stinging a
victim a snake gets intoxicated, lifeless and faints and comes back to
life a few minutes later! In the ancient world the snake was an honoured
symbol of medicine and even the Hippocratic Oath displays two snakes.
The earliest snake charmers were traditional healers and they treated
snake bite victims and their expertise was much sought after to flush
out snakes from human abodes whenever they became a nuisance to human
Snake lore of many countries inform us that these creepy reptiles who
have been living alongside man throughout the ages also have a long
life. In this context it is useful to discuss the manifold ways in which
this dreaded class of animals are serving mankind throughout the world.
In Asia especially man is always poised to think about the destructive
force of snakes and it is very seldom that we care to think about the
important role they play in relation to man's welfare, either directly
or indirectly. It is important that we understand snakes as an integral
facet of mother nature leaving aside the fear and mysticism we generally
attach to them. Civilised people and those with a highly developed
aesthetic sense are impressed by their beauty and graceful movements and
poets have written about them. Even to the ancient Greeks the serpent
represented wisdom and longevity.
The greatest benefit that snakes bring on man is the control of
rodents such as rats which all kinds of snakes relish to swallow. From
dim historic times rodents have been one of man's greatest enemies as
they are carriers of deadly diseases and are great raiders of food
stores. Throughout the ages snakes have been very effective controllers
of rodents more than any other single natural agency.
More direct methods of their service to mankind come to us in the use
of snakes as a source of food and as a source of raw material in the
production of expensive fancy goods. Throughout the centuries reptile
leathers have been both ornamental and durable and all kinds of snakes
have provided their quota of reptile skins, especially the skins of sea
snakes have been highly fancied in this sphere.
In the western countries fashionable women loved to possess
snake-skin shoes, purses and handbags made of cured snake skins showing
variegated designs. For a long time utility items made of snake skins
formed an important part in the fashion circles. Even today snake skins
are used for making scarves, belts, shoes, handbags, wallets, purses,
cases and a host of other items including sports jackets.
In certain parts of the world such as Brazil even expensive books are
bound in snake skins! In neighbouring India snake venom is used in the
manufacture of antivenin. The therapeutic use of cobra venom is known
throughout the world. While we in Sri Lanka are agitated even at the
mere sight of a snake, people in some other countries believe that its
flesh is both nourishing and appetising. As such in certain countries
snakes are of much appeal as an article of diet. For instance, pythons
are a welcome addition to the diet in some parts of Asia and Africa. It
is said that the people of tropical America accept boas as a rich
article of food. As much as the skins of sea snakes are a rich raw
material for the production of ornamental items their flesh is a popular
food in Japan.
In some other countries snakes figure as a dietary delicacy on
special occasions. Wealthy Chinese hold a feast with snakes as one of
the most important and cherished dishes. In many countries snake flesh
is sold as a highly priced novelty food for social occasions. Certain
varieties of snake venom are used in modern pharmacology. Derivatives of
snakes have been in use from time immemorial as effective sources of
strength, courage, wisdom and virility, believed to reside in certain
organs of the snakes.
Primitive people carried snake organs in amulets and by doing so they
believed that they produced miraculous results. Snakes have always
provided material for witchcraft and especially brews of medieval
medicine used material derived from snakes.
In some countries snake oil of all kinds has been a popular remedy
for athletes and for various human afflictions.
Writers of sensational fiction have often used snakes in their
stories either as guardians of secret places or as weapons of
retribution or murder. In early warfare live snakes which were thrown on
to the enemies were used for large-scale man slaughter. The death
dealing activities of snakes have thrown them aside as possessors of
supernatural powers and some people believe them to be the incarnation
of evil spirits.
Some others admire snakes, adore and worship them as gods'
representatives and even today many people in Sri Lanka and India
consider the cobra as a national heritage and a symbol of culture and
Particularly the villagers of Sri Lanka avoid killing snakes even if
they encounter them in their homes and from the ancient times they have
protected them with respect and honour.
All these facts show that snakes are also beneficial to mankind in
several ways and what is really lacking is a proper understanding of
this ever dreaded creature found throughout the country. So the next
time you encounter a snake try not to destroy it.