Of Snakes & Tresses
The author and her family were warned about the hyenas and jackals, but we were told that the snakes in the neighborhood were completely harmless. Intrigued, the author asks around and finally is able to piece together the strange ‘Sita Pahari’ myth.
Three of the most impressionable years of my childhood were spent in Jabalpur. But it was not the streets of the city of Jabalpur but a distant hillock called Sita Pahari (Sita's Hillock) that holds the imprint of my childhood. We lived in a sprawling British Colonial army house surrounded on all sides by thick vegetation. So it was natural to bump into the wildlife of the area be it of the four-legged variety or the crawling variety. We were warned about the hyenas and jackals, but we were told that the snakes in the neighborhood were completely harmless. That didn’t exactly reassure us but then we hardly had a choice.
My first encounter with a snake-denizen of Sita Pahari was nothing short of strange. One day as I came home from school, I saw a thin and lean looking snake draped elegantly over the bars of the outer gate. Not quite trained in the art of snake-handling, I clapped my hands and shook the gate a little to dislodge the snake but it refused to budge from its warm perch. Seeing my dilemma an Army jawan (soldier) stopped by, and to my surprise, he simply went up to the snake folded his hands and mumbled a few words as though in prayer. And voila! The snake exited, albeit reluctantly.
The second encounter was quite scary. My father was in the lawn supervising the planting of saplings. He wore moccasins and had propped his foot over the bricks lining the flower bed. Going out to hand him a cup of tea, I glanced down and to my horror saw a snake lounging on his moccasins. Speechless with horror, I backed away. Dad spotted the snake and immediately gestured to the ‘mali’, our resident gardener, to hand him a stick. Dad bent down and gingerly picked the snake with the stick but at the mali and sevadar’s exhortation simply threw it into the under-bush instead of killing it. We soon realized that harming a snake was taboo here.
Intrigued, I asked around and finally was able to piece together the strange Sita Pahari myth. The belief was that Sita after her abduction was kept on this hillock by Ravana (hence the name Sita Pahari). Sita in her anguish, at being separated from Rama, pulled out her tresses which turned into snakes. As the snake inhabitants of Sita Pahari were descendants of Sita’s snake tresses, they were revered. Obviously, no historian would accept this far-fetched explanation, but it was enough for the inhabitants of Sita Pahari to desist from harming these creepy crawlies. And I
guess, they reciprocated the goodwill for in the three years of my stay I never heard of a case of snake-bite.
Beats fiction anytime!!!
Rachna Singh is a doctorate in English literature and a former bureaucrat, She has authored Penny Panache (2016) Myriad Musings (2016) Financial Felicity (2017) & The Bitcoin Saga: A Mixed Montage (2019). She writes regularly for National Dailies and has also been reviewing books for the The Tribune for more than a decade. She runs a YouTube Channel, Kuch Tum Kaho Kuch Hum Kahein, which brings to the viewers poetry of established poets of Hindi & Urdu. She loves music and is learning to play the piano.