Nagamandala (nAgamandala) (ನಾಗಮಂಡಲ) is a particular variety of Cobra worship in a broad spectrum of such practices in the coastal districts of South Canara and Udupi. This is associated more with Brahmin community when compared with other prevalent practices such as ‘Ashleshabali’, ‘kADyanATa’ and ‘Dakkebali’. Nagamandala obtains its name from the intricate and aesthetically pleasing drawings (Rangavalli) called ‘manDala’. This seems to be a Dravidian, non Vaidic ritual even though it is now appropriated by the upper castes. A particular sub sect of Brahmins called ‘vaidya’ has the hereditary rights to perform this ceremony under the aegis of whoever is willing to sponsor it. . However any individual is allowed to sponsor it in order to fulfill his owes. People belonging to various communities are allowed to witness it and they are fed sumptuously. But caste hierarchy is strictly adhered to. ‘HuDi sEve’ and ‘manDla BOga’ are the variant names given to this ritualistic dance. The floor on which the worship takes place is decorated with five colored drawings laid on it. The outlines are filled with powders. The design of the ‘Nagamandala’ is in itself an artistic feat. It is an elaborate pattern drawn in natural colors. Traditional and symbolic patterns hold the serpent image at the very center.

References to ‘Nagamandala’ are found in inscriptions and literary texts dating from the thirteenth century. Some scholars have defined Nagamandala as a fertility rite. It is also said that the cobra is worshipped here, symbolically worshiped in the form of 'nagayakshi'. 'Nagayakshi' is nothing but the drawing of a huge five hooded serpent.

Nagamandala is performed on an elevated platform built in wide open space. A pendal is erected on this platform taking care to see that there is no pillar within the pendal. Nagamandala is drawn on this platform. The drawing is square shaped, hexagonal or octagonal depending on whether the serpent has five, seven are fourteen hoods. A full fledged nagamanadala consists of an eight sided mandala with a fourteen hooded cobra. Red, black, white, yellow and green are the colours that are used predominantly. The five colours are made of white mud, mix Of lime Powder and turmeric Powder for red, 'Jangama Soppu' green leaves’ powder, turmeric powder and roasted and powdered paddy husk for black. The combination of these five colours is called as 'Panchavarnahudi' In the local dialect. .Usually the cobra is yellow and its eyes are red. Other images such as Brahma, Ganapati and Yaksha are also drawn in addition to the main drawing. The mandala is illuminated by a number of oil lamps. Upper part of the pendal is decked as a ‘naagabana’. It is decorated with coconuts, cucumber, arecanut, images of parrots etc. this place is meant for Gods who are expected to attend the performance! 

The ritual commences with feeding the people. This is a big affair with thousands of men and women receiving the prasada. The ritual begins at the nearby Naagabana. Nagas are offered a mixture of rice flour, milk and turmeric. ‘Naagapaatri’ is visited by the deity. All of them arrive at the venue of nagamandala in a procession accompanied by songs and instrumental music. The vaidya draws the manDala. Many worships and rituals are performed. (HOma, havana) The decorations are very elaborate. Gold ornaments are placed on the hood of the cobra.

A couple of hours after the sunset, the group comes back to the ‘naagabana’.  Here Brahmin priests are even more dominant and the vaidyas recede to the background playing on a musical instrument called ‘Damaru’. “NAgapAtri’ now becomes a medium and ‘naagayakshi. visits his body. The orchestra lead by the vaidya makes its appearance. It consists of a person who is decked in a half man-half woman costume,(‘naga nartaka’ or ‘ardha naari’) two singers in civil dress. All of them except the paatri play on some instrument or the other. Then the dance performance begins. Nagamandala depicts the divine union of male and female snakes. It is generally performed by two priests. The first priest, called ‘paatri’ inhales the areca flower and becomes the male snake. The second priest, called as Nagakannika or the female snake dances and sings around an elaborate serpent design drawn with natural colours on the sacred ground..

The songs are either in Kannada or they take the form Sanskrit shlokas. ‘Naagapaatri’ dances to the tune of music and instruments. His movements imitate the movements of a cobra. He gives vent to a number of emotions. Many motifs and dances picked from Yakshagana are enacted. Vaidya also is a part of the dancing troupe. ‘Vaidya’ and ‘paatri’ perform complementary movements. The songs are offered to the ‘naaga’ and they are flattering in nature. Even the half man-half woman actor participates in the dance.

The ritual bound stereo typed costumes have details picked from Yakshagana and other performing arts of the region.

The ‘naagamandala’ performance is not theatre in the proper sense of the term. However it does contain many elements that go into the making of a play. It succeeds in creating a body of spellbound spectators because the religious element imbues the atmosphere with a supernatural aura. This performance is the culmination of the ‘Naga Mandala’ ritual. It is believed that the ritual will absolve the attendees of the curse of the serpent and protect them from leprosy. It also restores prosperity of the worshippers and begets children to barren couples.        




2.   (Fourteen Photogrphs related to Nagamandala)

3.      NAGA MANDALA.SNAKE WORSHIP RITUALS IN DAKSHINAKANNADA. | (A number of very good photographs)


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