By Taniya Dutta
Scores of Indian devotees embarked on a spiritual walk wielding highly venomous snakes in an attempt to ward off evil and negate bad karma.
The men were part of a procession organised to celebrate the snake festival called Nag Panchami in Samastipur in Bihar in eastern India.
The auspicious day falls in the month of July or August every year and is celebrated by hundreds of thousands of people across the country.
Visuals show bare-chest men, mostly snake charmers walking in tandem, displaying their prized possessions that they had specially hunt two weeks before to mark the festival.
Once they reached the local temple, they queued in to receive blessings from metres-long and potentially deadly snakes as priests chanted hymns.
Snakes have a significant place in Hindu mythology and people worship them to please the snake Gods to bless them favourably and bring good luck. They bathe and offer them milk, sweets and flowers.
However, what is bizarre is that people literally go on a snake-hunt, dig burrows and pull out reptiles using sticks and keep them in pots.
This mistreatment have propelled several animal rights activists and welfare organisations including PETA to put a ban on the festival.
Activists accuse snake charmers of capturing the serpents in suffocating bags and yanking their teeth out or sewing their mouths shut so that they do not bite.
Charmers have long been a favourite with tourists in India. But their numbers dwindled after the government strengthened laws in 2002 prohibiting the commercial use of wild animals, including performances with live snakes.
The legislation emptied most cities of charmers, although they can still be found in rural areas, and also around major tourist sites where they risk arrest as they try to cajole visitors into taking a photo for a small fee.