Rain and Water
Nag Panchami is celebrated during the early weeks of the monsoon season. After the long, hot months of summer the rains, which move up the Gangetic Plain from the Bay of Bengal, bring much-needed relief. The rains mark a distinct seasonal change that is of greatest importance to farmers who must plow and plant their fields. Wrestlers also recognize the significance of the rains. For them they mark the beginning of the wrestling season. They also bring them out of torpid dormancy. Cooler weather enables wrestlers to exercise with renewed vigor. The meaning of rain in the context of wrestling is parallel to the significance rain has to the agricultural cycle. Moreover, Dundes has noted that throughout the Indo-European world, water and moisture in general are regarded as life-giving (1980: 109). Rain in particular helps wrestlers grow, and so, too, does the regimen of daily bathing. Water falls on the fertile ground of the wrestler’s body and brings forth dormant strength and skill. Nag Panchami is a time when wrestlers bloom.
The Vedic term for season, retu—most often associated with vrsa retu, the rainy season—is etymologically very close to the vedic term for semen, retas(O’Flaherty 1980: 20). With regard to rain and semen there is another theme which points up an interesting parallel between rain and wrestling. Vrsti (rain) and vrsan (a powerful, virile, lustful man or a bull) are both derived from vrs (to rain or pour forth; ibid.). There is a clear parallel between rain and semen, particularly if one bears in mind the obvious role of the monsoon rains in agricultural growth and generation. The theme of virility as symbolically linked to rain and strength provides a strong case for why wrestlers celebrate their identity at the beginning of the monsoon season.
In Hindu mythology and folklore snakes represent rain (Maity 1963: 124–125; Rig Veda: 1.22.2; Vogel 1926: 34). In a more general sense they are often regarded as the deities of ponds and rivers (Crooke 1926: 390; Harivamsa chap. 68; Maity 1963: 154). H. Zimmer writes: “Like a river winding its way, the serpent creeps along the ground: it dwells in the earth and starts forth like a fountain from its hole. It is an embodiment of the water of life issuing from the deep body of mother earth” (1946: 74–75).
In this respect snakes represent two aspects of water: masculine rain as semen and feminine water as nurturing essence. The snake both falls from the sky and gushes from the earth. Snakes must not, therefore, be strictly associated with either feminine or masculine attributes. Significantly, snakes represent both male and female sexual energy. They are not purely phallic (Kakar 1990: 57); neither is the dominant motif one of impregnation. Snakes symbolize a powerful form of androgynous sexuality which is clearly apparent in the reconciliation of male rain with female water.
This point may be taken a step further if we consider the oppostion of fire and water in relation to snake symbolism (O’Flaherty 1980: 214–215). While snakes are associated with water, they also represent lightning (Vogel 1926: 3–4). As such snakes represent the fire of passion and the danger of unbridled lust (Kakar 1990: 52–63). A common theme in Indian folklore is the belief that an erotic woman’s vagina contains a poisonous snake (O’Flaherty 1980: 292). On the male side of the erotic equation the snake represents instinctual passion which must be controlled and channeled. As O’Flaherty has shown, the theme of serpent passion-fire is clearly manifest in the mythic metaphor of the submarine fire. Herein the cooling properties of the ocean contain the fire of sexual energy (ibid: 214, 215). Kaliya, as one may remember, is banished to the ocean where his poisonous passion is cooled. Without going into this in detail, one may see that just as the ocean controls passion, so does the rain aspect of Nag balance his or her fiery passionate dimension.
Significantly, rain, water, and fire comprise a balanced symbol of sexual energy. The power of sexuality, both male and female, is recognized through the metaphor of rain and water, and the danger of sexuality as lust and passion is recognized in the metaphor of lightning. Passion is always cooled through the agency of rain and water. Sexuality thus remains a potent symbol of power while the dangerous aspect of sex is held in check.
In wrestling, where contained sexuality is so important, the rain of Shravan represents both the engendering strength of semen and the cooling of fiery passion. The rainy season evokes the symbolic significance of contained sexuality, and the wrestler’s body reflects the dynamic reconciliation of passion with strength. As we shall see, the wrestler must never lose semen. He must turn it back into physical and moral strength. As a result, he must translate the fiery energy of passion into the physical energy of strength. He is thus like the huge rain clouds that roll up the Gangetic Plain, swollen with rain and sparkling with lightning.
An alternative of this same motif would be that cooling rain symbolizes the liquid female aspect of sexuality while the snake represents the fiery passionate side (cf. O’Flaherty 1980: 55; 1973: 286–289). However, in such an interpretation passion is cooled only through the release of semen—as the rain falls from the swollen clouds onto the earth—which is antithetical to building strength through containment. The more appropriate interpretation with regard to Nag Panchami ritual is that rain represents the nascent energy of semen for which the snake is, in either a male or female guise, the potent agency of passion. By thus relating but isolating agency from element, snake from rain, passion from sexuality, the wrestler is able to focus on his sexual energy without falling prey to passion.