The over-bridge connecting the railway platforms one, two, three, four, five, and six at Borivali Railway Station is usually crowded, conveying travelers between platforms in the same rushed manner as conducting them toward the exit to the east where they’ll descend the stairs to platform six before exiting the station.
Anxious to board the trains announced on the speaker or hurrying to exit the station to beat the rush heading for scarce rickshaws or buses outside, travelers will rarely break stride or cast a glance elsewhere before making their way about, unless an exception waylays them.
And today it appeared in the form of a firm voice emerging from the corner of the over-bridge, calling out even as the crowd moved and broke ranks in an age old Mumbai tradition –
“Today is Nag Panchami, today is Nag Panchami”.
It’s just as well she called out because the coiled Cobra (Nag) in her basket was barely visible in the flowers and garlands covering it, the raised hood barely noticeable along the curve of the projection.
She sat with the cane basket holding the Cobra, most likely made from copper, at her feet, her hand at the ready by a tin of milk she served up on the metal Cobra’s hood from a metal stirrer wound with cloth to soak up milk, in the same motion a passing traveler made in bringing up a coin as an offering to the serpent on the auspicious day of Nag Panchami, among the first festivals gracing the month of Sravan.
On Nag Panchami day, devotees offer milk, not necessarily in the belief the Cobra will drink it but more from the symbolic value associated with milk as a revered offering to deities on auspicious occasions.
“Today is Nag Panchami, today is Nag Panchami,” she called out each time a rush of passengers made their way up or down the stairs. Some folded hands in prayer in front of the Cobra, revered in Hinduism as much for protection from its lethality as for its role as a protector, depending upon the contexts it’s seen in or assigned.
Short of time as they go about their daily lives, it suited many travelers to pay up and have milk offered on their behalf to compensate for their inability to make time to visit a Shiva temple and offer milk to the Nag (Cobra) themselves. Meeting half-way is cultural. The middle path is comforting.
She called out again.
“Today is Nag Panchami, today is Nag Panchami.”
Her voice had begun to crack from calling out all day.
As I took the stairs down, it became apparent yet again how a city bursting at its seams will seek to delegate faith for want of time. And in doing so it reveals how, even when pressed hard consistently, it will seek to hang on to tradition in a desperate attempt to retain what remains of an identity derived from the culture of a people, of a past, for an uncertain future.
Note: Shortly, I’ll post on Nag Panchami celebrated at Borivali’s Omkareshwar temple, and Jogeshwari’s Jagdamba & Kalabhairav temple.