One snake for two people in Indian village

For some people, a poisonous snake hissing in their courtyard is the stuff of nightmares. But in this sleepy village in eastern India, the reptiles are welcome and abundant.

One snake for two people in Indian village

The village of Choto Pashla in West Bengal state has one snake for every two residents, mainly the poisonous monocled cobra, a black reptile with a yellow ring around its neck that can grow to seven feet (two metres) in length.

Such snakes are found everywhere -- in rice fields, ditches, muddy ponds and even sometimes sunning themselves by houses -- and no one appears to fear them.

"The poison-fanged reptiles represent a way of life in Choto Pashla. People of the neighbouring villages are scared to come here," said Samir Chatterjee, the local school headmaster, who has written a book about the snakes.


"A recent count by the villagers found there are more than 3,000 snakes in this village of 6,000 people."

The Geological Survey of India is studying the village to figure out why the cobras are flourishing there, an official said.

"We wonder why a particular species of snakes is thriving in this village," said the official, asking not to be named. "We are looking into the topography of the village."

Local lore has it that the reptiles first came to the little rice-farming village 130 kilometres (80 miles) northwest of the state capital Kolkata en masse six centuries ago during a flood.

The Hindu village began worshipping the snakes as the representatives of a goddess and believe that their farms have consequently prospered ever since.

"Women offer milk to the reptiles at midday when the priest worships the goddess of snakes, Manasa, in the temple," said Chatterjee.

When a snake dies, the villagers place it in an earthen jar and then immerses it in the sacred Ganges River.


Still, apart from feeding them and performing their last rites, the villagers do try to keep the snakes at arm's length, or more.

"Our customs forbid us from touching the snakes," said 25-year-old Dipu Majhi who was bitten by a snake nearly five years ago while fishing in a pond.

Nearly a dozen villagers die of snake-bite every year, locals say, with the village still relying on traditional treatments.

"I was asked to bathe in the pond beside the temple of the goddess of snakes and then a pinch of mud from the temple compound was rubbed on the injury," said Majhi, a fish and vegetable seller.

"My hand swelled but healed after a week."

Anti-venom drugs are available at some hospitals in the state, but these may not be near enough for the villagers to get to in time.

"It's a unique village where poisonous cobras are co-existing with human beings," said Dipak Mitra, a herpetologist. Mitra also runs a snake park in Kolkata with 700 species of the reptiles, and has visited the village.

"It's simply incredible," he said.

AFP

Last Mod: 01 Eylül 2007, 07:11
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