Manasa (মনসা), also Manasa Devi or Maa Manasa, is a Hindu folk goddess of snakes, worshipped mainly in Bengal, Jharkhand (previously part of British Bengal) and other parts of North and Northeastern India and also in Bangladesh, for the protection from and cure of snakebite. Generally, Manasa is worshipped without an image. A branch of a tree, an earthen pot or an earthen snake image is worshipped as the goddess, though images of Manasa are worshipped too.
The cult of Manasa is most widespread in Bengal, where she is ritually worshipped in temples. The goddess is widely worshipped in the rainy season, when the snakes are most active. Manasa is also a very important fertility deity, especially among the lower castes, and her blessings are invoked during marriage or for childlessness.
Manasa is the sister of Vasuki, king of Nagas (snakes) and wife of sage Jagatkaru (Jaratkaru). She is also known as Vishahara (the destroyer of poison), Nitya (eternal) and Padmavati.
She is often called “the one-eyed goddess” and among the Hajong tribe of NE India, she is called Kani Diyav (Blind Goddess), as one of her eyes was burnt by her stepmother Chandi. By this much of reading, you must have sensed that there are many stories behind her. Lets look into those stories.
The MAHABHARATA tells the story of Manasa’s marriage. Sage Jagatkāru practiced severe austerities and had decided to abstain from marriage. Once he came across a group of men hanging from a tree upside down. These men were his ancestors, who were doomed to misery as their children had not performed their last rites. So they advised Jagatkāru to marry and have a son who could free them of those miseries by performing the ceremonies. Vasuki offered his sister Manasa’s hand to Jagatkāru. Manasa mothered a son, Astika, who freed his ancestors. Astika also helped in saving the Nāga race from destruction when King Janamejaya decided to exterminate them by sacrificing them in his Yajna fire offering.
PURANA are the first scriptures to speak about her birth. They declare that sage Kashyapa is her father, not Shiva as described in the Mangalkavyas. Once, when serpents and reptiles had created chaos on the earth, sage Kashyapa created goddess Manasa from his mind (mana). The creator god Brahma made her the presiding deity of snakes and reptiles. Manasa gained control over the earth, by the power of Mantras she chanted. Manasa then propitiated the god, Shiva, who told her to please Krishna. Upon being pleased, Krishna granted her divine Siddhi powers and ritually worshipped her, making her an established goddess.
Kashyapa married Manasa to sage Jaratkaru, who agreed to marry her on the condition that he would leave her if she disobeyed him. Once, when Jaratkaru was awakened by Manasa, he became upset with her because she awakened him too late for worship, and so he deserted her. On the request of the great Hindu gods, Jaratkaru returned to Manasa and she gave birth to Astika, their son.
The Mangalkavyas were devotional poems to local deities such as Manasa, composed in Bengal between the 13th and the 18th centuries. The Manasa Mangalkavya by Bijay Gupta and Manasa Vijaya (1495) by Bipradas Pipilai trace the origin and myths of the goddess.
According to Manasa Vijaya, Manasa was born when a statue of girl that had been sculpted by Vasuki’s mother was touched by Shiva’s semen. Vasuki accepted Manasa as his sister, and granted her charge of the poison that was produced when King Prithu milked the Earth as a cow. When Shiva saw Manasa, he was sexually attracted to her, but she proved to him that he was her father. Shiva took Manasa to his home where his wife, Chandi, suspected Manasa of being Shiva’s co-wife, and insulted Manasa and burnt one of her eyes, leaving Manasa half-blind. Later, when Shiva was dying of poison, Manasa cured him. On one occasion, when Chandi kicked her, Manasa rendered her senseless with a glance of her poison eye. Finally, tired of quarrels between Manasa and Chandi, Shiva deserted Manasa under a tree, but created a companion for her from his tears of remorse, called Neto or Netā.
Later, the sage Jaratkaru married Manasa, but Chandi ruined Manasa’s wedding night. Chandi advised Manasa to wear snake ornaments and then threw a frog in the bridal chamber which caused the snakes to run around the chamber. As a consequence, the terrified Jaratkaru ran away from the house. After few days, he returned and Astika, their son, was born.
Accompanied by her adviser, Neto, Manasa descended to Earth to obtain human devotees. She was initially mocked by the people but then Manasa forced them to worship her by raining calamity on those who denied her power. She managed to convert people from different walks of life, including the Muslim ruler Hasan, but failed to convert Chand Saudagar, a rich and powerful merchant. Manasa wanted to become a goddess like Lakshmi or Saraswati. In order to get there she had to achieve the worship Chand Saudagar who was extremely adamant and took oath not to worship Manasa . Thus to gain his fear and insecurity Manasa one by one killed his six sons . At last Manasa conspired against two dancers of Indra’s Court who loved each other, Anirudha and Usha . Anirudh had to take birth as Lakhinder, Chand and Sanaka’s seventh son . Usha took birth as behula and married him . Manasa killed him but Behula floated on water for nine months with the dead body of her husband and finally brought back the lives of the seven sons and the lost prosperity of Chand Saudagar . At last, he yielded by offering a flower to the goddess with his left hand without even looking at her. This gesture made Manasa so happy that she resurrected all of Chand’s sons and restored his fame and fortunes. The Mangal kavyas say that after this, the worship of Manasa was popular forever.
Manasa Mangalkavya attributes Manasa’s difficulty in attracting devotees to an unjust curse she gave to Chand in his previous life. Chand then retaliated with a counter-curse that worshipping her would not be popular on earth unless he worship her.
Today is Shravan Sankranti / আজ শ্রাবন সংক্রান্তি , when Goddess is being worshipped/ আজ মা মনসা’র পুজো। প্রার্থনা করি মা যেন তাঁর সন্তানদের সর্পকুল থেকে রক্ষা করেন।