Manasa is a Hindu goddess and the mother of all species of serpents. In some places of the Indian sub-continent she is also known as the goddess of fertility and affluence. She is mainly worshipped in eastern and western India including Bangladesh. In the past, Manasa was a traditional goddess but she was identified as a scriptural goddess later. As she is the one who controls all the snakes on Earth and she can take away the venoms of snakes, she is called ‘Vishahari’ by many of her devotees. According to Manasa myth, she has four hands and a fair complexion. So, she is called Jagadgouri. Her face is beautiful and pleasant like the moon. She wears clothes having red colour of the morning sun. She has golden ornaments. Her mount is a swan. There are eight snakes around her hands, her crown and her feet. As per the Sanatan Hindu scriptures, she has twelve names. These are Jaratkaru, Jaratkarupriya, Jagatgouri, Manasa, Siddhayogini, Vaishnavi, Nagbhagini, Shaivi, Nageshwari, Astikmata, Vishahari and Mahajnanayuta. So the devotees of Goddess Manasa chant the following sloka to protect themselves from snakes –
The appearance and divine play of goddess Manasa are found in Devibhagavatapurana, Mahabharata, Brahmavaivartapurana etc Hindu scriptures. But the most authentic stories of Manasa are found in Devibhagavatam. According to Devi bhagavatam, Manasa is the mind born daughter of Rishi (sage) Kashyapa. It is said that Prajapati Brahma ordered Rishi Kashyapa to initiate a mantra or trick to protect the human beings from snakes. When Rishi began to think about it, a golden-coloured goddess emerged from his mind. As she was born in the ‘Man’ (mind), she was named ‘Manasa’ and ‘Kamrupa.’ In Devimahabhagabhatam we get the following sloka-
sa cha kanya bhagavati kashyapasya cha manasi/
tenaiba manasa devi manasa ba cha divyati.//
In Mahabharata, Manasa is described as a married goddess. Her husband’s name is Jagatkaru. The name of the son of Manasa and Jagatkaru is Astik. When Manasa along with Lord Shiva reached Kailasha (the abode of Lord Shiva), Devi Parvati became agitated and made her (Manasa) blind. Since then Manasa is known as blind goddess. According to Mangalkavya, Devi Manasa is the mind born daughter of Lord Shiva and the sister of Nagraja (serpent king), Vasuki. As she was born on a Padma (lotus) leaf, she is also called Padmavati. Manasa got the divine knowledge and Samveda from her father, Shiva. So, she was named ‘Shaivi’. As Lord Shiva is both her father and teacher, she learned the Vaishnava mantra ‘shring hring kling Shri Krishnaya Swaha’ and went to the holy place of Puskara to pray to Almighty. Then she was named ‘Vaishnavi’. It is also learnt from Devibhagavatam that Devi Manasa pleased Lord Krishna with her prayer and she was bestowed with such a boon that she would ever be worshipped by all. It is also said that Lord Krishna worshipped her first. Then Rishi Kashyap worshipped her following Lord Krishna and then all other Rishis, Nagas, Gandharvas and human beings began to worship her.
In Bengali literature, many poets described the character of Manasa in their poetry. The name of Kanahari Dutta, Kshemananda, Vijay Gupta etc poets can be mentioned here. The characters of Manasa written in Padmapurana and Manasamangal are very popular in Bengal. According to the Manasa mythology described in Padmapurana and Manasamangala, the character of Manasa arouses fear and surprise in our mind. Chand Saudagar (merchant), one of the prominent characters in the story, refused to offer his obeisance to goddess Manasa. Vishahar, a sage and devotee of Manasa killed six sons of Chand on their wedding night with snake bites. Lakhinder, the seventh son of Chand was also bitten by Kaal Nagin (a poisonous serpent) and he died. But his (Lakhinder) devoted wife named Behula did not give up hope and reached heaven and brought her husband back to life. She promised Manasa that she would make her father-in-law offer obeisance to her (Manasa) and she (Behula) kept her promise.
Since the ancient time goddess Manasa is worshipped in Bengal on the Shravan Sankranti (the last day of the Bengali month Shravan) or Ashari Panchami (the fifth day of the fortnight in Bengali month Ashar) of rainy season. In fact, snakes and other poisonous insects are largely seen in this season. In the past, when the medical science was not developed, snakebite treatment mainly depended on the four ways of mantra, herbals, kriya and daiva. All these treatments were dependent on the grace of goddess Manasa. So, the devotees began to worship goddess Manasa so that they could avoid snake bite. Again in many places Ananta, Vasuki, Padma, Mahapadma, Takshak, Kulir, Karkat and Shankha – these Ashtanagas are also worshipped as the symbols of goddess Manasa. goddess Manasa is described in many literatures. In these literatures, the dreadful consequences of not worshipping Manasa and benefits of worshipping Manasa are described. These stories are mentioned during the worship of goddess Manasa. Many palagans (a Bengali music form which is based on an ancient story or mythology) have been composed on these stories. ‘Manasar Bhasan’ is such a palagan which is staged in different places of Bengal during the worship of Manasa. The biggest fair on the occasion of Manasa Puja is arranged at Palashpole of Satkhira, Bangladesh. It is a hundred year old Bengal traditional fair.
The worship of goddess Manasa is held in Manasa temples or in family temples. Normal puja (worship) procedures or steps are followed to worship the goddess. The devotees follow the steps of taking Sankalpa (mental preparation) before the worship starts, placing the idol of goddess Manasa on the altar, achmana (rinse of palm and lips with water) chakshudan or invocation of the deity, visarjan (immersion) etc.
Through the worship of Manasa Hindu devotees come to know about different types of serpents. Different steps can be taken to avoid the case of snake bites. Hindus believe that the worship of goddess Manasa is one of these steps. The learning of this worship is the master of art of winning serpents. Through this art we can maintain peace in society and bring back the enemy to goodness. So, we should chant a Manasa mantra –
astikasya munermata bhagini-vasukeshtatha/
jaratkarumuneh patni manasadevi namoastute//
(I bow to goddess Manasa who is the mother of sage Astik, sister of Vasuki, the king of serpents and the wife of sage Jaratkaru.)