Story Behind The Lens #8 – Snake Charming

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Snake Charming

There is nothing quiet like it until you have seen it!

Snake charmers are street performers who hypnotise and coax their snakes to dance and sway to music that they play on a Gourd flute. Snake charming is a traditional Indian folk art and is usually a family trade that has been passed down from generations and learnt from a very young age. The two most popular snakes used is the Python or the Black Cobra, both have deadly consequences.

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Once the snake charmer has hunted his snake in the wild the training begins. The charmer will spend up to six months training his snake. One of the key ways to instil trust and create a bond with the snake, is with the human touch and gentle stroking of the snake. Snake charmers were once a regular fixture at Indian bazaars and festivals, later moving into the neighbouring Sri Lanka. The snake charmers would mesmerise crowds of onlookers with the ability to control some of the world’s most venomous creatures.

Now there is more to this story.  Some say that the snake charmers have the snakes venom ducts removed so they can’t bite and no longer poisonous. Of course most handlers will deny this. Some say they are simply excellent at handling reptiles. There are even stories of ‘magic potions’ that make the charmers immune to their venom. What ever you want to believe, it is a sight to see never the less.

My first encounter with a snake charmer was when I was walking down steps from a temple I was visiting in Sri Lanka.  A soft voice emerged from the side of the bushes ‘see snake madam?’.  There, perched on his haunches on a rock was a tiny little man with two grass baskets in front of him. When he pulled his flute out and held it to his mouth I halted. Is it what I thought it was? Snake, flute and two baskets. Yes, he was a snake charmer and I was very intrigued.

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The tune that came from his flute was mesmerising enough, then he lifted the lid to one of the baskets and a cobra slowly emerged. The deadly reptile began to sway side to side as he played his gourd flute. Every now and again he made his hand into a fist and distracted the snake with it. Even though this experience only lasted a few minutes the mysteriousness of the whole scene from beginning to end made me want to learn more about it. It was captivating to witness such this ancient art while visiting a beautiful temple in an incredible country.

Have you ever seen a snake charmer?  Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

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Liza Williams

Born in South Africa, fascinated with culture and loves wood fire pizza. “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away” Follow me on twitter: @soul_drifters

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