The Secrets Of Snake Charmers

secrets of snake charmers

Who hasn't heard of the enigmatically charming snakes? We've all seen the image of a man lifting the lid off a basket to reveal a snake, whether it was in a movie, on TV, or in a book.

The man starts playing a tune on his pungi or bansuri, a gourd flute, while the venomous snake starts to swing.

However, while the majority of people can name the snake charmer, very few are aware of the tricks used by this peculiar show and these so-called "trainers".

Today, dear reader, we invite you to learn more about the mysterious world of snake charmers.

1) Charming snakes: an ancient tradition

A) India and its snakes

Snake charmers in India

Snakes and India have a contentious connection. Since snake bites cause thousands of fatalities each year, several cultures dislike and even fear snakes.

Contrarily, snakes are also loved and cherished across Indian culture and in some local religions, such as those practiced in Rajasthan.

The principal Indian deities associated with snakes include:

  • Shiva, one of the main deities of Hinduism. She is usually represented with a blue skin and a royal cobra wrapped around her neck.
  • The god Krishna who is said to have said, "Among the snakes, I am Ananta." Ananta being the infinite divine serpent guardian of creation.

In Indian-derived Buddhism, Mucalinda, the king of the Nagas (a type of mythical snake men), lends Buddha his hood to shield him from a storm.

B) Snake charmers in Morocco

Snake charmers in Morocco

India, where this custom originated, has a far higher prevalence there. However, you can find snake charmers in a lot of Asian and African nations.

The Jemaa El Fna Square (or Djemaa el fna, which means "Square of the Passed Away") in Marrakech, Morocco, is well known for its numerous snake charmer performances.

This public space is well-known for being a true contemporary "Court of Miracles." The area is the ideal location to locate traditional entertainments like fire eaters, fortune tellers, acrobatic monkey trainers, and snake charmers. It is close to the Koutoubia mosque and the royal palace.

This square is one of the main reasons why more than a million visitors travel to Marrakech each year. Open-air concerts take place here throughout the day.

C) The snake charmer

The snake charmer

Many Westerners automatically picture a caricature of a snake charmer in costume with a flute, a basket, and a swinging cobra when they think of India.

Even the fiercest snakes are entranced by the flute player's exquisitely captivating songs as he sits cross-legged in his traditional attire and turban.

The snake in question is typically a naja cobra (or Indian cobra). one of the most poisonous snakes of all, belonging to the Elapidae family. However, snake charmers can utilize vipers to generate the motion in places like Morocco or Algeria.

The practice of enticing snakes is thought to be an age-old craft that originated in India. It is reported that the first time someone hypnotized a cobra, it was a healer.

In the past, it was thought to be a miraculous or god-blessed deed, which many healers demonstrated in their neighborhood.

Markets, souks, and bazaars once frequently featured snake charmers. They held some of the most dangerous beasts in the world under control, hypnotizing thousands of people.

Religious celebrations like Nag Panchami, an annual festival honoring the king of the cobra, were equally notable for their use of snake charmers.

D) The Caste of the Snake Charmers

snake jewelry

In India, Hindus worship snakes, and those who practice snake charming are seen to be devotees of Lord Shiva.

The Saperas are a historical tribe of snake charmers. This tribe's members survived for millennia by trapping deadly snakes and forcing them to dance to their music. Thus, a true caste has been developed.

India has a tradition of charming snakes. Some families have had male snake charmers for more than ten generations! The most populous state in India, Uttar Pradesh, has a higher concentration of these odd musicians.

Through this family link, the craft of creating the pungi, a traditional flute made from gourd fruit, is also passed down.

E) Snake Charmers in Traditional India

Snake Charmers in Traditional India

Snake charmers may occasionally be useful to the public because they are accustomed to handling extremely dangerous snakes from a young age.

India is home to many extremely deadly snakes, and whenever one was discovered inside a home, the snake charmer around the corner was frequently called in to come and capture the animal in exchange for a fee.

In general, people went to the snake charmer if they had an issue with a snake. Due to their reputation as healers in Indian culture, the latter group was also frequently the primary source of medication in cases of snake bites.

2) Snake Charmers: How does it work?

A) The snake charmer and his music

snakes charming

For visitors to India, the snake charmer is able to mesmerize the reptile with his captivating tune. The animal appears to respond to the instrument's call as though it had been enchanted by a magician. However, this is not at all the case!

The snake is deaf, so it cannot hear the sound of the instrument, which is a little different from what you might anticipate. Assuming they are a threat, it instead concentrates on the pungi and the person who moved it.

The cobra mimics the flute's movements, giving the impression that it is dancing to the music while defending itself.

This enables the snake to keep close eye contact with the player's moving components, particularly the hands holding the instrument, as well as the instrument itself. As it would in the wild, the cobra rears back in an effort to intimidate the possible adversary.

The snake charmer moves his instrument in such a way as to provoke the snake, and he also brings it so close to the snake's head that the snake can breathe air from the flute. This contributes to further agitating the animal.

The flute musician then hits the ground with his feet to "motivate" the snake to emerge from the wicker basket and stand up straight. Even though the snake is not sensitive to sound, it is extremely sensitive to ground vibrations, which generally enable it to sense when a predator is around.

It turns out that the key to "charming a snake" is to irritate and agitate it.

B) The Cruelty Behind the Snake Charm

charmer of snake

It's crucial to note that the information that follows only pertains to some snake charmers. But sadly, the occurrence is too widespread to affect a small percentage of individuals.

Actually, there is nothing at all "charming" about this technique. Wild snakes are first illegally poached in the process. Although snake charmers always have a variety of snakes, they prefer Indian cobras due to their impressive and intimidating ruff, which is well-known to tourists.

As a result, when they do their performance, they run the risk of killing someone by biting them with a snake's venom. However, there is no danger, and the whole thing is a sham. The snake is really a puppet that is being used to amuse the audience.

This iconic piece of Indian folk art conceals a very sad truth for snakes. The idea that a poisonous snake can be lured and attracted by music is frequently based on cruel techniques designed to weaken the snake.

A wild animal that has been captured by a snake charmer may have its fangs broken, its venom glands punctured, or its mouth stitched shut to render it incapable of biting the charmer. Because of this, the snake is unable to feed, and while it is in captivity, it slowly starves to death.

Since it too uses snake venom for digesting, removing its glands will ultimately result in its death. As a result, a snake used by a snake charmer is doomed to an almost certain demise.

We encourage you to read the extremely thorough essay we wrote about snake venom to learn more about it, its critical role for the animal, and how it functions.

Snakes are either left in their little, dark enclosures or are simply thrown into the wild when they are no longer useful to the player and do not die of thirst.

The snake is thusly liberated and stripped of its fangs and venom glands, whereupon it is doomed to a protracted torture before starving to death a few months later.

Naturally, the majority of spectators at these street concerts have no idea what happens in the backstage area. Naturally, snake charmers vigorously refute any claims of animal cruelty.

C) What to do to stop this barbaric practice?

snake during charming

Knowing the terrible cycle that some snake charmers set up would cause us to pause before snapping a photo if we ever visit India or any nation where this "craft" is performed.

Of course, tourism is advantageous to the local community. But in order to have a long-lasting good impact wherever we go, visitors and travelers must try their best to travel while conscious of the realities behind some habits.

If you ever travel to India (it's a stunning nation; we highly recommend it), Since you abhor this practice as much as we do, here are a few measures to take:

  • Don't encourage snake charming or any other form of animal abuse for entertainment purposes.
  • Don't pay to watch an animal perform. This vindicates behind-the-scenes brutality, encourages poaching and illegal possession of wild animals, and supports industries dedicated to making a profit on suffering.

You'll see that this also holds true for English circuses, who, despite using different animals, frequently use extremely cruel methods to produce basic entertainment and performances.

3) The Decline of the Snake Chargers

A) The End of an Indian Tradition

snake jewelry ring

Indian snake charmers are currently fighting for their lives as the practice slowly fades away. Since ancient times, snake charming has been a part of Indian tradition.

Nowadays, it is difficult to find a snake charmer; in the past, they would roam the streets. Likewise during Nag Panchami, the yearly religious celebration in praise of the snake king.

Some snake charmers still cling to this age-old practice despite changes in laws, society, and morals.

Recently, snake charmers in traditional Indian garb the dhoti kurta and yellow turban performed in a Delhi street, and images and accounts of the performance spread swiftly online. In front of them, these men set up a few wicker baskets and began playing pungi.

As soon as people began to assemble, one of them opened his baskets, releasing three snakes who immediately began to move their heads in time to the music.

He then went up to the audience, displaying the reptiles and describing the various types. The snake charmer, however, sped away when a policeman came.

This serves as an example of the realities that snake charmers face today: playing hide-and-seek with law enforcement and forestry officials.

B) The Disappearance of the Snake Charmer Culture

black snake charmer

The Wildlife Protection Act was amended in 1991, outlawing the practice of enticing snakes. Currently, it is against the law to catch, own, or play with snakes in India.

The few snake charmers that are still performing on the streets and thrilling tourists are no longer really enthused. This law strikes them as a setback. They only know how to charge snakes; it's a trade they learnt to support their families.

They have made a living by playing with snakes in India's streets and villages for centuries, but they are now confronted with the decision of living illegally or finding work.

These families of snake charmers have lost their roots in addition to not being able to support themselves via the practice of their trade. Their material and oral heritage is gradually disappearing as a result of modernization.

Furthermore, because the cultural shift is so significant, the younger generation doesn't seem interested in carrying on the tradition. NGOs and other critics of this practice assert that it is a relic of the past.

Since snake charming is not as lucrative as it formerly was in India due to cultural change, it keeps the snake charmers and their families in poverty.

C) Snake charmers: reduced to poverty

The snake charmers who are still working are finding it harder and harder to make a living as a result of the cultural shift and the ban on practicing their trade.

A snake charmer in the major Indian city of Jogi Dera makes only 200 rupees ($3) each day, which is insufficient to sustain a family. A growing number of young people who once considered a career as a snake charmer decide to work on building sites or attend school.

In India, the restriction has an impact on roughly 800,000 snake charmers. Many have started working other jobs, such as pulling rickshaws, selling goods on the street, working in construction or agriculture.

However, the union for snake charmers claims that the vast majority of them are still without jobs.

D) Laws Against Snake Charmers

India, a developing nation, is currently experiencing a boom. The government of a heavily polluted nation is starting to care about protecting the flora and wildlife of its enormous territory, sometimes in response to pressure from NGOs.

A 1972 Indian legislation forbids keeping, touching, torturing, and killing snakes (this law also protects tigers and elephants). But the application to snake charmers is quite new.

The Indian government first attempted to protect the snake charmers and their current snakes while attempting to stop them from catching more snakes since they were aware of its cultural significance.

Additionally, some snakes that were already in captivity had identifying chips implanted under their skin by the authorities. Authorities can check the animals in this way and seize any recently captured animals that do not have fleas.

Snake charmers claim that while authorities work to enforce laws protecting wildlife, their centuries-old practice is progressively disappearing. The crucial fact is the practice's complete outlawment in 1991, which was greatly influenced by animal rights campaigners.

Part II of Schedule II of the Act provides protection for the Indian cobra and the majority of snakes (tigers and Asian elephants are Schedule I species and therefore receive greater protection).

Killing an Indian cobra is illegal on paper. This is insufficient. In actuality, cobras discovered in metropolitan areas are almost always killed, and seldom, if ever, charges are brought.

4) Snake charmers today

A) Snake charmers and modern society

The legislation is not the only thing that prohibits snake charmers; Indian culture is also changing.

People in India are now more interested in TV shows and video games than in street entertainers as the nation moves toward middle class status. Ancient traditions are being impacted by modernity in a significant way.

Nowadays, saperas don't produce much money because there are so many alternative forms of entertainment.

However, if there was anything that might be saved from the art of snake charm, it might be the flute melody played by the charmer. Many former snake charmers refer to this object as their last hope.

B) The Snake Charmer's Flute: His Last Hope

Former snake charmers put their faith in their original, folkloric instruments as a result of snakes being reintroduced to their native home.

This instrument, which was handcrafted from bamboo and gourd fruit, is still a representation of the snake charmer society. It is also a representation of this distinctive way of life and a piece of India's cultural heritage.

It is important to preserve this symbolism for the snake charmer community. But to do this, the government must step in and support.

The centuries-old technique of snake charming would go completely in a few decades if the government does not make an investment in maintaining its history and music.

C) NGOs and Snake Charmers

The demise of the industry has caused snake charmers to find alternative work in order to feed their families and continue to make a life.

Some of them are establishing round-the-clock reptile rescue services in big cities like Delhi and Agra with the assistance of animal rescue organizations like Wildlife SOS.

Any Indian can call these experts and have a snake removed for free if they find one in their house or place of business. This service helps maintain the health of natural populations while simultaneously working to keep snakes and people safe in the short term.

These "new snake charmers" frequently work with significant NGOs, entrusting them with the captured snakes. These NGOs' vets will determine whether a snake is healthy enough to be released back into the wild, far from the danger and pollution of busy cities.

It's not simple to get rid of or save snakes that could bite. It can be challenging to locate employees who have the expertise and experience necessary. This is why NGOs greatly value the assistance of former snake charmers.

The NGOs and the snake charmers both gain from such a relationship. These people are able to enhance their quality of life, give up a cruel custom, and escape punishment for carrying on with this forbidden behavior.

Humanitarian organizations also support efforts to protect snakes by using the expertise of former snake charmers and working to gradually reduce the number of active charmers by giving them an opportunity to escape poverty.

5) What to remember about the snake charmer situation?

That's all, then! You won't see a snake charmer the same way when you see one on television or even when you're traveling now that you are fully aware of its secrets.

Snakes aren't the sweetest and cutest animals, and in Western society, they've had a terrible rap for a very long time.

But like any other species, snakes are a beautiful and interesting creature that deserves our attention and compassion. The symbolism of the snake is the most complex of all creatures, especially considering how much it is a part of our civilization.