In Puchong, Malaysia in a century-old Hindu temple, where Sri Maha Mariamman is worshipped, a 3 metres king cobra has draped itself around the statue of Sri Amman, a Hindu deity. Amman is just another name for Mariamman, worshipped mainly in Tamil Nadu, and hence by Malaysians of the predominantly Tamil ethnic group.
It is stated that most Sri Maha Mariamman temples would have an anthill, though I don’ t know why? But there is also a belief that the anthill is a resting place for cobras, but frankly I doubt cobras would want to lie around in a nest of swarming red ants.
Incidentally, if my childhood memory hasn’t yet failed me, Sri Maha Mariammam is the ‘sister’ of Kali. I suppose we better stretch the meaning of ‘sisters’ to align it with the way African Americans call each other brathers!
There are two Hindu temples in Ayer Itam village, Penang where the two ‘sisters’ are worshipped. Kali’s temple is in Kampong Baru whilst Sri Maha Mariamman is further up near the Ayer Itam village centre. Many Chinese are worshippers of Sri Maha Mariamman, where she is famed for her divine curing, very much unlike her ‘sister’.
The king cobra is one of the two better known species of cobra in Malaysia. The other, shorter and more aggressive specie is naja naja or Indian cobra. The naja naja is almost black while the king cobra (ophiophagus hannah meaning snake-eater) is usually brown or even greenish. The king cobra grows to about 5 to 6 metres and stays away from populated areas. The king cobra’s diet is usually snakes. Yes, it’s cannabilistic and very useful in controlling the population explosion of snakes. By virtue of its size, its volume of poison injected in a bite is usually fatal but unlike its smaller cousin it’s a shy and reclusive snake, living in the bush to prey on its normal fare of snakes.
In Hinduism, the king cobra is usually associated with Lord Siva, wrapped around his neck, symbolising creation and destruction.
Malaysian devotees have been offering milk, eggs and flowers for the snake, though I am sure it prefers optimum sized snakes like a naja naja. The offerings remind me of my family offerings to departed loved ones on Chinese Cheng Beng festival. By some strange coincidence the offerings so happened to be dishes we like too ;-) So I wonder whether the origin of the traditional offerings of milk and eggs had anything to do with these being favourites of priests too?