Snake charming is a type of performance during which so-called healers and magicians play a special musical instrument called pungi (a type of flute) in front of a snake (usually cobra).
During the performance, they supposedly hypnotize the snakes and make them sway side by side making them appear as if they are dancing.
Do snakes really dance during a snake charming performance?
No, snakes do not dance to sound of a flute although they appear so. In fact, snakes do not have external ears to hear music or any sound. The only thing they can hear is vibrations sensed by their jawbones.
Since the snakes can’t hear music, claims made by snake charmers are destroyed. Snakes are not mesmerized nor hypnotized by the sound of pungi. They sway during the performance for a logical reason.
If snakes can’t hear music, how come they dance during the snake charming performances?
That is a valid question. To answer it, we will use hard science: Snakes do not hear the sound, but they have a vision.
Using that vision, snakes detect the motion of a pungi and charges at it in a defensive mode.
In other words, snakes do not enjoy the music during the performance. Instead, they feel threatened and become anxious about the charmer movements and follows it.
Snakes have poor vision. They can’t see things in detail, but they can sense things that are happening right in front of them.
This explains why snakes stick out their tongues all the time. Since they can’t see very well, they check their environment with their tongue.
There are also reports that some snake species can boost their vision while they feel threatened. So it is possible that snakes raise their head during the music and follows a pungi trying to get better focus on the moving object.
A poor vision also explains why snake charmers sit very close to snakes during the performance. If snakes can be hypnotized by the music, snake charmers could have played their flute from a little further distance as the music can be heard from at any nearby distances.
Instead, they choose to sit right in front of the snakes so snakes can be aggravated and engaged in a defensive mode.
Animal rights activists are against snake charming performances.
Although snake charming may seem like harmless entertainment, the process involves cruelty towards snakes.
Snakes are being captured from their natural habitats, their poison glands are being removed, and they are kept in a low-nutrition diet so they would feel sluggish and harm-free during the performances.
According to PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), most snake charmers sew the mouth of their snakes shut, just leaving a small opening to pour milk and water. Plus, that opening allows snakes to stick their tongue out.
Snakes charmers want snakes to show their tongue during a performance because locals believe that the tongue is a venomous stinger of a snake. Therefore, snake with a long tongue creates frightening scene during the performance.
Do snake charmers release their snakes back to nature?
Once the snakes are captured, their venom ducts pierced with a hot needle, and their mouth is sewn shut, they can’t live longer. They go through a slow and painful death.
Even if the charmers release them back to nature, they do not survive in most cases since their defense mechanisms are already altered.
When and where did snake charming originate?
The snake charming is not a new practice. Thousands of years ago, Egyptians and Indians practiced similar activities. At that period, high-status men and traditional healers were practicing it.
Most people believe that the snake charming as we know today has originated in India several centuries ago. India still is a home for the majority of snake charmers. And it is probably the place to watch one of those shows.
Depending on a religion, snakes were considered evil serpents or accepted as sacred creatures. Thus, whoever could control them were thought to have unearthly powers.
By conducting the snake charming rituals, early healers learned to make money off their spectators. They prescribed traditional treatments and sold ointments for snake bites and other illnesses.
Additionally, charmers were seen as magicians who were capable of casting away evil spirits and preventing dark forces from approaching to innocent souls.
That is how snake charming began in the first place. Although the entertainment element was a part of the foundation, it was mostly considered a pure advertisement and business strategy invented by traditional healers to attract potential customers.
Is snake charming still practiced?
Although snake charming is a dying trade, people still can watch those shows in India since it is the sole profession of some tribesmen in India.
Snake charming can be observed in several other Asian and North African countries as well. More specifically, countries such as India, Malaysia, Thailand, Sri-Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Morocco, Egypt, and Tunisia still practice it.
However, in recent years, animal-rights groups started protesting against snake charming and the profession experienced a steady decline since then, leaving some snake charmers out of job.
The major blow against snake charming was 1972 Indian law which banned ownership of snakes. Losing their livelihood, some tribesmen protested against the law. However, they could not revoke the law.
Organizations do feel the financial pain of snake charmers, so they advise them a profession change. Since charmers are good at handling snakes, they were recommended to become snake rescuers.
Instead of trapping snakes from the wilderness and using them for unethical practices, those charmers could capture snakes from residential areas and release them back to nature.