Just when you think you’ve seen it all

I’m utterly speechless.

One of YouTube’s commentors tries to explain things –

This is a rite of passage in India. It has not fangs and it’s mouth is sewn shut. Also, it has no constricting force so it’s less dangerous then a dog or cat.

… And discussion on urban-mythbusting website snopes.com seems to concur. Any mutineers have insight here? I mean it’s one thing to teach a baby not to fear *this* snake but rue the day he should start fearing all snakes.

92 thoughts on “Just when you think you’ve seen it all

  1. Dude, that thing left me scarred! Perhaps there should be a strong “click at your own risk” type warning.

  2. This in no way is going to perpetuate any stereotypes of village/rural indians whatsoever??

  3. Morans! What if it directly pokes in the eye of the toddler? These guys will then celebrate the god given blindness.

  4. is the point to get past the snake (the parents keep telling the baby to come over) or is it to tame it? is this all over india? only in andhra? i felt a bit bad for the snake….

    These guys will then celebrate the god given blindness.

    krish, have you read khushwant singh’s short story, the mark of vishnu? horrifyingly amusing tale about snake devotion in india…

  5. hav seen this one earlier…apparently its done so tht the child doesn’t fear the snake. its a training for the boys so tht they become good snake-charmers/trainers whn they grow up

  6. The snake is harmless, so what? If I would was any kind of father, I’d rather have my son playing with snakes than watching Barney (yuck!!!). A little aggression is GOOD in young boys, God save us from the handbag-wielding pink-shirt wearing Karan Johar types.

  7. Certainly bizarre. Blindness apparently of no concern to parents, although that trust may be experientially based. Definitely no nappy/diaper on infant, so other bourgeois values also challenged. Amazing that the baby never even blinked when the snake lunged– Very brave baby, I was rooting for him/her. Him? Her? No girl snake charmers? Gracias ak, I too will look for Khushwant Singh’s snake story.

  8. There are times being Indian seems a bit cool. Then there are times it seems like God’s cruelest and yet funniest joke. This is the latter.

  9. This gave me the chills. My brother was bitten by a Krait very recently and spent 6 days in ICU on anti-venom.

  10. BEHOLD THE CHILD THAT WILL RULE OVER ALL THE SNAKES!

    around the 30 sec mark the kid has this look that says, “I will choke you, you cobra motherfucker.”

    nobody’s gonna take that kid’s lunch money. nobody.

  11. I saw this a while ago… the baby is really cute.. Not really sure what, if anything, this will teach an infant. If anything it is probably teaching the opposite of what it should be, because if it was an actual snake with fangs, the baby would be dead pretty quickly.

  12. I am unsure if this is a common practice to that particular village but it seems very dangerous. I wonder if there are any statistics/studies of villagers exposing children to cobras/snakes in this manner and how many injuries if any resulted.

    It is unethical and extremely dangerous, in my opinion, to put a cobra in front of a defenseless child.

  13. The people in the video seem to speaking Telugu…Despite Hyderabad and cyber-city hype etc, I find most people from Andhra to be the most superstitious types…In India, being Modern and also extremely superstitious at the same time does not feel odd to a vast majority of people…you only have to take a look at some of the movies to come out of Tollywood to see how bizzare it gets!

  14. I like it. I think this should be the next Great Indian Export to the west after yoga and basmati. It can be called, hmm, Bonding with your kid the Shiva way, and we can even supply the special snakes. Animal lovers will be happy to see snakes bred with such fervor.

    On a side note: How deliciously third world country! I hope we never snap out of it and join that part of humanity making it’s trek towards enlightenment.

  15. Ever since my dog (R.I.P.) died after a fight with a cobra near home, I’ve been morbidly afraid of snakes of any kind, and rightly so. They are freaking dangerous, and I’ve seen them take a life, right in front of my eyes. Even if the cobra was defanged or whatever, what kind of parents would ever subject their child to such an atrocity? I couldn’t get through the video, it was just too shocking.

    Unfortunately, the reverence for the Cobra isn’t prevalent only in the ignorant villages in some backward state … Some of the most learned ppl in society also hold them sacred merely out of religion. If it deepens stereotyping of Indians, so be it – it is a fact at least in most parts of Karnataka that the cobra better not be disturbed/hurt/killed, else bad things will happen. Most of the times, the cobra is just ‘shooed’ away even if it were spotted inside a home or very close by, on their own courtyard. This is the most irresponsible consequence of this whole reverence… What if someone accidently steps on it and gets bitten ? They’d rather keep themselves safe from being ‘cursed’ than keep themselves safe from being killed.

    In most of these sects, it is a ‘curse’ to even see a dead cobra .. and one must do thousands of rupees worth of pooja to cleanse oneself after this… which in turn makes it almost impossible for even non-believers to kill them… unless they wish to be shunned by their neighbours. Of all the beliefs in India, the reverence for the cobra is one thing that I’m hoping will die out as soon as possible.

  16. Before we get all first-worldly righteous and indignant about this video, let’s take a moment to understand why so-called “stupid, uneducated raghead Indian parents” (quoting comments from another website) would put their baby through this. Take a moment to understand the ecosystem in which the parents live in and the baby will grow up in. And if they are snake-charmers or the more needed snake-catchers (for us gentle, helpless city folks who need to call for special help to capture that cobra the took up dwelling under our balcony in the Banglore high-walled, posh house), then they need to nurture the fearlessness that babies come with naturally.

    Fear or disgust of reptiles is considered mostly to be an acquired trait. And difficult to shed once acquired, I think. I speak from personal experience–despite going to vet school, I cannot bring myself to touch shudder any creature from the amphibian or reptile class. Thankfully, it affects not my career prospects in the world full of choices I live in (I have decided numbers-based research is my niche). But things would have been a lot different had I been born in family whose livelihood includes being a snake-catcher. You wouldn’t want the snake-catcher you sent for to be more scared of the cobra under your balcony, would you?

    Consider. I wanted to throw up in disgust when one of my (Caucasian) vet school friends in the US said happily that her missing ball python was found when it snuggled up in bed with her the previous night (it had gone missing for 3 days in the nooks and corners of her suburban student apartment). The way I see it, she voluntarily chooses to restore her missing link with the natural world with a cold-blooded creature who couldn’t tell the difference between her and her dog, but the rural families in India have to learn to share their everyday environs with all kinds of animals and plants that inhabit their ecosystem. And you can’t always tame it. Sometimes you have to accept it and learn to live with it side by side. If you are lucky, you live to tell tales about it. Educated by Western standards or not, the parents of that child have more than an instuitive understanding of the phenomenon of the world that surrounds them.

    So folks, let’s quit being judgemental about the people in whose shoes we have not walked.

  17. All of you understand that in India especially rural India, snakes are ubiquitous and it is very important that the child be familiar with snakes, because most of the deaths related to snake bites happen beacause of shock experienced at seeing a snake. Most of us might have seen a snake at a zoo or something and thats why it is difficult for us to comprehend. You donot see anything wrong with allowing your pet dog to play with your children because you think it wont hurt, this is also similar but because this is a snake we are bound to react differently.

  18. Most of the times, the cobra is just ‘shooed’ away even if it were spotted inside a home or very close by, on their own courtyard.

    Can’t speak for all religious beliefs (as an aetheist), but in this case I am thankful for this particular respect and reverence accorded to cobras when analyzed from one side: that of the dwindling numbers of snakes in India. (Mostly due to disappearing habitats and increasing conflicts with human interests). Before you react adversely, let me just say that I myself will go crazy from fear if I found a cobra in my home…

    Snakes occupy an important ecological niche such as controlling the rodent population and judging from my last visit to India, people aren’t killing enough rats and mice. They choose to live with those disease-carrying, sewage-infesting vermins, so to me it is not at all strange that they choose to live with cobras in their environment. One might even argue that it is a consistent, non-discriminating, thankfully non-westernized environmental wisdom.

  19. THe snake is probably more at risk considering that the snake has no fangs and cannot defend itself. Also the snake is in alien territory. Life is hard for a snake with mouth sewed up. Baby on the other hand looks like it had a nice nap after a good lunch to set up in destroying the slithering reptile.

  20. So folks, let’s quit being judgemental about the people in whose shoes we have not walked.

    Malathi,

    Don’t hold your breath on this one ! :-)

  21. I think all of us who come from Indian farming/rural families have a good sense of how snakes are viewed and venerated. On one hand we will sacrifice chickens or goats to the abandoned termite mounds where they dwell. On the hand, I have seen the same people who venerate the cobra kill them if they enter homes or godowns. Some of the comments here suggest that villagers would allow a snake to harm their child…complete bunk. They would most assuredly kill a cobra threatening a human…we’re not talking about Abraham willingly sacrificing Isaac to G*d here.

    This video is just another example of the extreme being taken as mainstream. In one Intro the Anthro class I audited, the very first introduction to Hinduism was a documentary on Aghoris. Typical BS…

  22. helpless city folks who need to call for special help to capture that cobra the took up dwelling under our balcony in the Banglore high-walled, posh house

    Are snake sitings that common in the cities in India? I must readily admit, fear of snakes (to reinforce malathi’s notion from above, I’d be perfectly happy if insecta and reptilia were completely eradicated…[yes yes, I understand their niche]) has kept me from going to small rural villages. The last time I was in a jungle [South America], seeing several pythons (perhaps anacondas) was enough to keep me away from jungle areas in the future. If I ran across a cobra in the wild, not sure if I would flee or have my legs turn to stone in petrified fear. In fact, my goal is to move to a high enough latitude where snakes are not found, even though I detest winters.

  23. If this is supposed to teach the child to be comfortable in his/her ecological situation perhaps it would be more appropriate to teach the child that this particular snake isn’t the kind you mess with. We all need to have a healthy respect for creatures without being scared of them. So, not to disrespect the snake charmers/catchers way of life but I’m not sure letting a child play with a defanged Cobra is teaching it the whole “healthy respect” thing. I’d be afraid that this child would initiate contact with the real thing because he doesn’t really understand the danger.

  24. Are snake sitings that common in the cities in India?

    No Desh: If you spend at least 6 months in a S. Indian farming village, there’s a 50% chance you will see cobra or russels viper outside of a cage. In most cases you will be well outside of the danger zone. The people at greatest risk are farm laborers during rice planting season as they are hunched over and more likely to catch a bite on the upper torso

  25. No Desh: Disregard my last comment, I see that you were asking about cities. Don’t know about that. But it seems like a city slum with its high concentration of rodents would attract snakes

  26. Can someone speak to the caste/community issue? Not all rural people would let their kid play with a cobra, just those that harvest snakes (this is a large industry) or have some historic reason for dealing with them.

    Here’s a shot by Mary Ellen Mark, from 1981, from her work on Indian street performers (link).

  27. Preston,

    There is no caste issue here so I think we should refrain from making it out to be one. As malathi pointed out above we don’t necessarily understand the circumstances so it is better not to be judgemental.

  28. Munira, assuming you have never had to balance teaching a healthy respect vs healthy caution towards cobras, and assuming generations of snake charmers/snake catchers have done the balancing act and survived (in the big picture, not every individual who was born), I ask: who are we to comment? What experience do we bring to the discussion table? What authority do we have?

    Maybe there needs to be a $20K-NIH-funded study based in the US, the results of which can be exported by a panel (in which a token South Asian origin person can sit) and snake-catching, villager-parents in India can come to a workshop and cleanse themselves of their own knowledge and relearn their survivial skills. But in the same spirit, I hope in the meanwhile that funds are set aside to teach dog safety tips to parents in developed countries, considering that most fatal dog attacks are in children left unsupervised with multiple dogs. And I don’t even want to get started on breed-specific issues.

  29. … Some of the most learned ppl in society also hold them sacred merely out of religion. If it deepens stereotyping of Indians, so be it – This is the most irresponsible consequence of this whole reverence… What if someone accidently steps on it and gets bitten ?

    Whatever your opinon of this video,I find it irritating that religious beliefs of others – however outlandish they may seem are mocked and tossed aside. This is intolerance.

    By that standard then - believing in a virgin birth - worshipping idols - throwing stones at a pillar to cast out the devil etc,etc are all outlandish and may have irresponsible consequences. Note: I am not trying to ignite some religious debate here -but trying to get some perspective into the discussion

    I personally have never worshipped a snake, I am scared of them but I would not object to others worshipping them provided they do not harm them in this worship

  30. Louiecypher – thanks for your response, for both cities and villages. Perhaps I should stay north, perhaps Amristar or Srinigar? Hopefully they have few creepy crawlers.

  31. No Desh,

    I lived 27 years in Delhi and Bombay and didn’t see one other than the ones with the random snake charmers. I think you can go to most cities without aggravating your ophidiophobia.

  32. Whatever your opinon of this video,I find it irritating that religious beliefs of others – however outlandish they may seem are mocked and tossed aside. This is intolerance. By that standard then - believing in a virgin birth - worshipping idols - throwing stones at a pillar to cast out the devil etc,etc are all outlandish and may have irresponsible consequences

    i think all of these beliefs should be mocked and tossed aside. same with belief in the tooth fairy, a teapot orbiting mars, and flying spaghetti monsters.

  33. that said, i think people should be free to believe whatever nonsense they want.

  34. that said, i think people should be free to believe whatever nonsense they want.

    Puli,

    That is the key. And who is to decide what is irrational and what is rational? An atheist will find belief in any higher power irrational .Tolerance is allowing the atheist to not believe and in turn, the atheist allowing you to believe in whatver you want to as long as each of you is not trying to “convert ” the other to your viewpoint. – or killingg each other over it

  35. That is the key. And who is to decide what is irrational and what is rational? An atheist will find belief in any higher power irrational .Tolerance is allowing the atheist to not believe and in turn, the atheist allowing you to believe in whatver you want to as long as each of you is not trying to “convert ” the other to your viewpoint. – or killingg each other over it

    oh..i wholy agree. i think people should have the right to believe in any gobledy gook they want without fear of persecution. i mean…just cause someone believes in some higher power, fairies, angels, the starship enterprise, or god, doesnt mean they should be harmed or persecuted, or be considered less valuable. i just dont plan on actually respecting these beliefs on the same level as known facts like a lot of poeple would like (especially in the US).

  36. killingg each other over it

    awww, you are taking away all the fun! If we decide to try and kill each other over it, we can pump money in to defense spending which will drive the economy and help us all be good capitalists, right?

    brown – thanks for sharing your experience. Either my fears are irrational, or you didn’t get outside much! ;)

  37. No Desh,

    I never said that your fears are irrational just wanted to share what I noticed in 27 years in the two cities I lived in. As for not getting out much I will ignore that part of our comment.

  38. what are the laws about using animals for this kind of thing in india? i would imagine a country with a crap load of hindus in it would be all about animal rights, etc.

  39. @Runa #32

    ” Whatever your opinon of this video,I find it irritating that religious beliefs of others – however outlandish they may seem are mocked and tossed aside. This is intolerance. “

    and

    @Malathi #21

    ” Snakes occupy an important ecological niche such as controlling the rodent population and judging from my last visit to India, people aren’t killing enough rats and mice.”

    • It is really, really easy to have a ‘conservationist’ opinion about snakes and animal rights living in America where the closest we get to wildlife are in zoos or sanctuaries. I have seen at least 10 cobra sightings in MY courtyard over the 10 years I lived there … one of which took the life of my dog of 7 years. When there is a cobra roaming in your courtyard – it is the Survival of the Fittest… And what needs to be done will be done, regardless of ‘religious tolerance’ and ‘animal rights’.

    It is infortunate that the cobra has such a highly revered place in Indian society. If either of you have encountered a cobra in real life, and felt how close to death you really are, you would chuck political/religious correctness and conservation in the blink of an eye.

    I, for one, will continue to call a spade a spade, and a snake a snake.

  40. what do people in india do when there is a cobra in their house. i would $hit myself.

  41. brown – I hope you didn’t take offense at my comment (it was meant in jest). I was leaning more towards the irrational fear side myself – having a healthy fear is one thing, but a petrifying fear is probably not good.

  42. (contd.)

    @Runa:

    I have no problem with others worshipping the Cobra, if they let us non-believers be as well. The problem arises because seeing a dead Cobra is a ‘curse’ in the village surrounding our house … one that needs to be cleansed by costly poojas. If we were to protect our courtyard from the Cobra ,and didn’t believe in ‘shooing it away’ , we would need to somehow kill it … obviously you cannot do that in broad daylight because if the neighbours saw it, we’d be shunned.

    This is where there is a conflict … we want to save ourselves, they want to save their god. This is why I wish this belief dies out in the years to come … I mean no offence to any religion here. Merely speaking about safety.

  43. No Desh,

    No offense at all, getting out much is a funny story which is why I was trying to ignore it. It is just the stupid internet where the intent at most times is not clear. Hope the fear is overcome soon.

  44. The fact is, that most of us reading this site, whether we’re ABD, DBD, NRI, or whatever your acronym of choice, are out of touch with the culture and folkways of rural India (of course, the culture is not homogenous and varies from region to region and as Preston mentioned even caste to caste). Urban middle and upper-class Indians are no exception to this state of being out of touch. Our grandparents on the other hand in most cases would have understood a lot of this stuff much better than we can. I am certainly not defending this particular snake custom (if that’s what it is) BY ANY MEANS, but just pointing out that philosophically and culturally, those of us who have gone into the orbit of the Western World and the English language, have lost touch with a lot of hard-core, real desi stuff. That’s certainly not necessarily a bad thing in all cases, but I think we need to acknowledge that reality. Which doesn’t mean that idiotic or harmful rural customs should get a free pass.

    The other reality is, that the western-based, English-medium model of education that many of us (or our peers in India) experienced, also takes us far away from our culture. Again, not a bad thing in all cases, but something to think about.