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From: sudarshan madabushi (
Date: Sat May 29 1999 - 05:15:25 PDT

Dear bhAgavatOttamA-s,

In the 7th verse of the "lakshmi-nrsimha-karAvalamba-stOtram", Sankara 
bhagavatpAdA describes the world … "samsAra"… as the "yawning mouth of a 
hideous serpent":


This life my world is a serpent's mouth
The fount of human bane
Venom and vile, ruin and dread
Fangs of doom've devoured me.

The "serpent" is a very common metaphor of Evil in all the literature and 
cultures of the world. The archetype of Original Sin in the Holy Bible is 
the evil serpent that drew Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden Fruit of 
Knowledge. In the oriental mythologies of the Far-East the fire-spitting 
serpent symbolises the principle of Evil on earth. In our own "purAnA" of 
the Srimad Bhagavatam, as we know, the serpent 'kALiyan' infested the 
streams in the district of Brindavan and represented the elemental force of 

Right across the world, Evil and the serpent have become inseparable, 
idiomatic associates. In the English language we have an expression, "snake 
in the grass" … which one uses to characterise a person considered 
sinisterly treacherous. Similarly there is another expression, 
"serpent-tongued": when you want to call a person a "dangerous liar" you 
call him that! In Tamil there is a common proverb, "pAmbin kaal 
pAmb-ariyUm!"… "Only snakes recognise each other's limbs!"… which is to say 
that a simple-hearted person might never discover the real evil intended him 
by another who is ill-disposed to him; that it takes one perfidious person 
to spot the heinous designs of another!

      ***********   ****************    ***************

The perfidy of the evil serpent is actually, however, a gross exaggeration 
of human imagination. In truth, the serpent is not even half as terrible as 
the fear it evokes in men's hearts. The chilling shadow of Pure Evil that 
serpents are said to cast upon this world is really a phantom inside Man's 
own mind rather than the handiwork of the creature's supposedly devilish 
nature. Venom is the serpent's weapon of defence, survival and retaliation… 
not of cold-blooded, pre-meditated sadism as is commonly portrayed in human 
folk-tale, myth and fiction.

The snake is a very vulnerable species. It is not at all what one would call 
a "first-level predator" of the wilds… like, say, the great cats such as 
lions and panthers or carrion-eaters like hyenas which by virtue of size, 
strength and being fleet-of-foot easily dominate the animal kingdom, staving 
off attacks from foes larger and more ferocious than themselves.

The snake, on the other hand, is a physically weak creature. It has no 
limbs; it can neither run nor crawl; it has to slither. It has an extremely 
faulty sense of sight and hearing; often it does not even notice the eagle 
("garuda") swooping down upon it from the skies until it is already in the 
grip of the great bird's deadly talons. It has no eyelids. It has only one 
functional lung. So unclean does it feel about itself that it undergoes the 
painful rigour of periodic skin shedding. It lives in constant fear of being 
attacked by creatures of and outside the forest and more powerful than 
itself … baboon, mongoose, man and other snakes. It thus lives a covert 
life… cowering in the shadows and slinking away into filthy pits under 
rocks, and into dark, smelly holes beneath the ground, amidst bushes and 
wild reeds…

When the snake hunts it does so primarily to gratify the most fundamental of 
biological urges: to quell the pangs of hunger. It stalks prey …rats, frogs, 
rabbits, baby baboons etc… that constitute staple diet. Because it is such a 
vulnerable species the serpent actually finds food extremely hard to come 
by. Survival and subsistence are the sole pre-occupation of the snake, 
consuming, they say, almost 70% of its entire lifetime.

All that a serpent wants from this world is alimentary gratification… and a 
bit of private space in a dark pit where it can coil itself and go to 
slumber… But the world at large only grudges it its simplest wants. The 
world is endlessly fascinated with serpents in a morbid sort of way. The 
world constantly seeks out serpents and pitilessly hunts it down … for its 
skin, its venom, for its value as a snake-charmer's showpiece, and most 
often for nothing but the pleasure of seeing it slaughtered as a creature of 
sheer evil … The world is certainly more inimical to snakes than less.

Its desperate and dire need of food, the shadowy and lonely life-style it is 
compelled to adopt and the morbid fascination an intrusive and unfriendly 
world has for it… all these combine to make the serpent a notoriously 
ill-tempered creature. By nature the serpent is a very solitary, very 
unintelligent creature. But often it turns into a vengeful "serial killer" 
simply because the world won't respect its natural need to be left alone.

Leave the serpent well alone… and it will surely reciprocate your 
thoughtfulness. But needlessly give in to your fascination for the strange 
creature and intrude into its life … you will immediately be in danger of 
crossing its forlorn path…

And that's when all your terrifying notions and nightmares of the serpent's 
Evil pre-disposition turn out to be absolutely true!

     *************   *****************   *******************

Deep inside Man's nature there lurk certain dark and Evil tendencies so very 
much like a colony of venomous serpents all coiled and hooded inside a dark 
pit …

It is precisely that dark and gruesome side of Man that Sankara 
bhagavathpAdA refers to in the lines of the LNKS, 

We must explore that hooded side of Man's nature in the next post.

adiyEn dAsAnu-dAsan,

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