Busted: Milking a myth
This weekly column debunks the various myths propagated by Indian cinema—Tamil films in particular
Myth: Snakes drink milk
Propagated in: Almost every Amman film, Padaiyappa
There is one time-tested, foolproof way espoused by Tamil cinema to seek the favour of reptilian deities. You are to buy a packet of milk, pour it in a vessel, find the nearest ant hill housing a snake and place it there as an offering. If the snake drinks it, it means a that you are blessed. Well, so says Tamil cinema.
So, we reached out to animal activist, Nikhil Talreja, to find out if snakes are interested in milk in the first place. "Snakes are not mammals. They are reptiles. Mammals can generally digest milk, and some, in fact, survive on it. For snakes, this is biologically impossible. Snakes in general can open three times the actual size of their mouth and consume prey directly. They just don't drink milk."
So where does this myth originate? There's a tragic story behind it. "Remember all those snake charmer stories? It's on account of them that this myth exists. Cobras are in general extremely difficult to handle and have extremely quick reflexes. Now for you and me, the best course of action if we encounter a wild cobra is to scamper in the other direction," he says. "But the charmers usually captured the snake, broke the fangs off of it (called defanging), stitched its mouth in the sides and left a hole in the front. After this, they starved the snakes for 30-45 days to the point of dehydration and brought it to the festival of Naga Panchami. People would offer various food items including milk, which to an extremely dehydrated snake with only one hole in its mouth, appears much like water to a person stranded in the desert. So it would lap it up."
He adds, "Consequently, our writers lapped up this myth and used it to drive into people's heads that this was possible. This idea is propagated in films across languages actually. People back in the day didn't have access to Google to verify if this was possible, and thus, this myth got propagated."