“The oldest living city in the world”.
This cobra charmer was on a ghat along the Ganges in Varanasi (Benaras).
Hinduism has long held serpents to be sacred, the animals are related to the Nagas.
Nāga (Sanskrit: नाग) is a symbol of Shiva, the God of Benaras, who is often shown garlanded with a snake.
Indians thus considered snake charmers to be holy men who were influenced by the gods.
Snake charming is the practice of apparently hypnotising a snake by simply playing an instrument.
Despite a sort of golden age in the 20th century, snake charming is today in danger of dying out.
This is due to the recent enforcement of a 1972 law in India banning ownership of serpents.
The law originally aimed at preventing the export of snakeskins, introducing a seven-year prison term for owning or selling of the creatures
Many snake charmers live a wandering existence, visiting towns and villages on market days and during festivals.
With a few rare exceptions, however, they typically make every effort to keep themselves from harm's way.
For one, the charmer typically sits out of biting range, and his animal is sluggish and reluctant to attack anyway.
More drastic means of protection include removing the creature's fangs or venom glands, or even sewing the snake's mouth shut.
Today, only about one million snake charmers remain in India.
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