Amy L. Allocco publishes book chapter and journal article on divine snakes in Hindu traditions

Allocco analyzes how divine snakes are imaged in particular myths, narratives, and South Indian Hindu festival celebrations as well as the gendered nature of contemporary snake worship and devotion.

Amy L. Allocco, Distinguished Emerging Scholar in Religious Studies, recently published a chapter titled “Fear, Reverence and Ambivalence: Divine Snakes in Contemporary South India” in Charming Beauties and Frightful Beasts Non-Human Animals in South Asian Myth, Ritual and Folklore (Equinox Publishing).

This volume, which is comprised of 15 chapters authored by scholars from across Europe as well as from India and the United States, was co-edited by Fabrizio M. Ferrari (University of Chester) and Thomas Dähnhardt (Universita Ca’ Foscari Venezia).

Allocco’s contribution discusses the ways that snakes (nāgas) are ambivalently imaged in South Indian Hinduism as divine beings with the capacity to bless as well as to curse. Drawing on long-term ethnographic fieldwork and textual study in Tamil Nadu, India, her chapter describes and analyzes myths, narratives, and festival celebrations that reveal the dual character of nāgas as goddesses capable of dispensing boons and blessings, as well as blocking marriage and withholding much-desired offspring. The piece also focuses on the critical dimension of gender in the worship of and oral accounts featuring nāgas, and highlights the gendered nature of many devotional relationships with the snake goddess.

Allocco’s chapter appears in the book’s fifth section, “Awe, Fear, and Death,” alongside contributions focused on the crow in Hindu religious traditions and the donkey in Indian folklore and has also been published in the current issue of the journal Religions of South Asia.

The anthology grows out of a recent surge in interest in non-human animals in the academic study of religion. It is the first of a projected series of three volumes to be edited by Ferrari and Dähnhardt; volumes on tree and plant life and rocks and minerals in South Asian traditions will follow the collection focused on animals. Allocco has a chapter analyzing a Hindu ritual marriage between two trees under contract with Equinox for the next volume in the series, Roots of Wisdom, Branches of Devotion: Plant Life in South Asian Religions and Culture.