Everyone has already seen or heard about the snake charmers ? You know, these men who manage to make the Cobras move by playing with his flute (Pungi or Bansuri in Indian). But behind these shows performed by “snake trainers” are hidden many mysteries that very few know. In this article, we propose to you to leave to the meeting of the world with share of the charmers of snakes.
Snakes in India
India is known to have many species of snakes in its territory, some of which are considered the most venomous in the world. Every year, thousands of people succumb to snake bites. This is why Indians have learned to be wary of these dangerous reptiles. At the same time, snakes are also symbolic animals and have been venerated in their culture since the dawn of time, whether in India or in Rajasthan.
There are even deities associated with snakes:
- Krishna: This god would have compared himself to Ananta, the infinite Divine serpent guardian of creation
- Shiva: one of the three essential deities in Hinduism. This God of the destruction of illusion and ignorance was often represented with a Royal Cobra wrapped around his neck
- Muchalinda: King of the Nagas in the guise of a Mythological Snake-Man who saved the Buddha from a flood during a meditation after his Awakening in Bodh-Gaya.
Origin of Snake Charmers
As mentioned earlier, snakes are revered animals in Hindu culture. Snake charmers are considered followers of the God Shiva.
The first Snake Charmers belonged to an ancient tribe called Saperas. The members of this group perpetuated their skills by catching poisonous snakes and making them dance to their music.
Snake charmers have their origin in India. Some families have been practicing this art for 10 generations.
Note: The state with the most snake charmers in India is Uttar Pradesh.
The Snake Charmer
For Westerners, India is the country that immediately brings to mind the Snake Charmer dressed in his costume, equipped with his flute and accompanied by a Cobra that “dances”. He is always sitting cross-legged and playing his instrument that almost makes us hypnotized.
The snake that accompanies him in his show is the Indian Cobra (or Cobra Naja). This snake belongs to the Elapidae, a family that includes the most venomous species in the world. Some snake charmers use vipers for their animation, especially in Algeria and Morocco.
Despite its danger, this snake remains a beauty of nature. If you find like us this prestigious animal, you can wear one in jewelry today with this beautiful Cobra Bracelet.
Many still think that charming a snake is an ancient method that evolved in India. The one who manages to hypnotize a snake has always been seen as blessed by the Gods.
If we go back to the origin of this art, the snake charmers used to show their skills on the market places, in the bazaars or in the souks. They attracted the attention of the crowd by “controlling” animals considered to be the most poisonous in the world.
Snake charmers in traditional India
Snake charmers do not always have the sole function of moving snakes on instruments. India being a country full of venomous species, they were often called to come and capture specimens that entered houses or endangered the safety of the inhabitants. They were therefore seen as saviors who came to the rescue of the population.
Snake Charmers in Morocco
Even if the Snake charmers come from an Indian tradition, other countries have also been inspired by them.
This is notably the case of Morocco, where you can find them in several places in the country. The Place Jemaa El Fna in Marrakech has become famous for the many shows that are performed by snake charmers. Located near the Kutubiyya Mosque, it has become the place par excellence where you can find different animations such as those of acrobatic monkey trainers, fire-eaters or snake charmers.
How does Snake Charmer work ?
Snake Charmer Song
For most people who come to meet a snake charmer, the snake charmer is able to hypnotize the animal by playing music with his flute. In reality, this is not at all how it happens !
Indeed, it is difficult to imagine a snake dancing on melody so these reptiles are deaf. The snake focuses instead on the movement of the Snake Charmer and his flute which represent a threat to him. Therefore, the animal follows the movements of the pungi, which gives the impression that it is dancing to the music.
The Cobra is thus in a defensive position, raising a third of its body to try to impress the snake charmer that it perceives as a threat. The instrument keeps the animal’s attention continuously.
The snake charmer doesn’t hesitate to get very close to the animal to blow air at it with his instrument and make it even more angry.
To top it all off, the flute player taps the ground with his feet to create vibrations and make the Cobra get out of his basket. Because yes, to compensate for their bad hearing, snakes are very sensitive to vibrations produced in the air and on the ground. This allows them to detect prey and threats in their natural environment.
Learn more about snake hearing
In short, the secret of the Snake Charmer is to provoke the Cobra into a defensive position.
Hidden side of Snake Charmers
Behind the magical and impressive side of Snake Charmers lies a much more negative image. What we are about to reveal to you does not concern all Snake Charmers, even though it is the majority of them.
First of all, it is important to know that snake charmers do not choose their snakes randomly. Indeed, most of them only want to own Indian Cobras.
Apart from their mythical hood, the Snake Charmers are mainly looking to impress tourists by being confronted with this venomous species.
But the reality is quite different ! Behind this image of a person controlling a deadly animal is an atrophied snake. Indeed, snake charmers do not hesitate to use barbaric techniques to render the Cobra harmless, such as breaking its fangs to prevent it from biting, piercing its venom glands so that it stops producing venom, or sewing up its mouth so that it cannot attack.
All of these methods are harmful to the snake. If the mouth is sewn shut, the Cobra is no longer able to feed and slowly dies of starvation. As the venom allows them to digest their food, cutting off their glands is equivalent to killing them in the medium term.
All snakes that pass through the hands of a Snake Charmer will eventually die no matter what. If they don’t die of starvation or dehydration, they are left to die in their dark boxes, or are discarded in the wild once they are no longer suitable for the charmers.
Unfortunately, the tourists who attend their shows have no idea of the cruelty behind it. And of course, all snake charmers deny the above mentioned facts.
The fall of the Snake charmers
Today, snake charmers are not as popular as they once were. This art is gradually disappearing.
The evolution of laws, morals and culture have considerably reduced the number of snake charmer shows, even if some people still persist in continuing this tradition.
The modification of the Law on the Protection of Wildlife in 1991 definitively prohibited these players from capturing snakes and playing with them. The only snake charmers still on the streets are no longer as enthusiastic as before. For them, this art had become a profession that allowed them to feed their families, something they can no longer do freely.
Today, a snake charmer earns only $3 a day (200 rupees), which is not enough to feed their families. In addition, the descendants who thought of taking up this profession now prefer to work on building sites or go to school.
This law has affected nearly 800,000 snake charmers in India. Today, some of them have turned to other professions, even if the great majority is unemployed.
Behind the image of the Snake Charmer who manages to control extremely dangerous animals while putting their lives in danger for the show hides unscrupulous methods.
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