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Saturday, 18 August, 2001, 13:24 GMT 14:24 UK
Snake charmers put on a show
Swallowing the venom from a deadly cobra
Swallowing the venom from a deadly cobra
By Ayanjit Sen in Delhi

In a unique convention, more than 100 snake charmers in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal have been showing off their tricks.

Crowds gathered at Khadaitala in Nadia district, more than 100km from the state capital Calcutta, for the annual gathering of snake charmers to worship the Hindu Goddess of Snake - Manasa.

Poisonous cobras, vipers and non-venomous varieties were all on show despite the hot and humid weather.

The snake charmers draped their specially-trained reptiles all over their bodies. One of their spine-chilling tricks involved squeezing deadly drops of venom from the snakes' fangs and gulping the liquid down.

Legendary origins

No-one knows when and how the annual fair started - some quote a legend saying it began over 200 years ago when a man came to the village to offer his prayers to the goddess Manasa after she fulfilled one of his wishes.

Others say the fair is not even 100 years old.

The charmers are popular and make good money at Khadaitala by displaying their art.

But many people die of snake bites in this part of the country.

Local officials say they need to educate villagers to seek proper medical attention when any member of their family gets a snake bite rather than seek the help of the hermits.

See also:

22 Feb 01 | South Asia
Snakes provide an antidote to poverty
10 Jan 01 | Africa
Man bites snake
27 Sep 00 | South Asia
Snake charmers push for Olympics
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