Manasa Devi or Mansa Devi is worshipped mainly in the north and north-eastern regions of India, especially during the monsoon season. She is the presiding deity of snakes and reptiles, a status said to be given to her from Lord Brahma.
By Sharon Bath
Tribal people have long worshipped Manasa Devi believing that she not only cured snakebite, she prevented it. She is also worshipped for granting wishes for prosperity and fertility, as well as curing diseases.
Birth of a Snake Deity
There are at least two stories about Manasa Devi’s birth from the Hindu scriptures. One is very mystical, an esoteric story which says that Lord Shiva was her father. Manasa means “conceived in the mind”. The story tells that Lord Shiva was beside a lotus pond, thinking erotic thoughts about his better half, Parvati Devi and accidently discharged his seed. The semen ran down the stem of a lotus flower to the lower regions and touched a statue carved by Kadru, wife of Vasuki Naag, and the inert statue came to life. Manasa Devi is known as Padmavati (resembling a lotus blossom).
Sister of Respected King Vasuki
The two stories agree that Manasa Devi was the sister of Vasuki Naag, the king of snakes. We may recognise Vasuki (her brother and king) as the snake ornament worn around the neck of Lord Shiva. Vasuki Naag has also gained fame as the snake used by the Devas and the Asuras in the great churning of the ocean of milk called Samudra Manthan.
According to folktales from Bengal it was Manasa Devi who saved Lord Shiva from the deadly poison (halahala) that he drank in order to save creation from imminent destruction. This poison churned from the milky ocean turned Lord Shiva’s neck blue. Thus Shiv Ji became Neelakantha (blue-throated one), and Manasa Devi was glorified as Vishahara, the destroyer of poison.
The Saviour of Snakes
Another story from the scriptures tells us that Sage Kashyapa was Manasa Devi’s father and she was born from his mind for the divine purpose of controlling snakes and other reptiles. Sage Kashyapa is one of seven ancient sages (rishis) called Saptarishis in the Rigveda. During this time in history when there were many snakes in the world, one of the local royal family members was killed by snakebite. Even though the snakebite was a curse from another sage, the royal family vowed to wipe out the entire snake family by performing a great Sarpa satra – a snake sacrifice that would destroy all living serpents. Manasa Devi needed to marry and produce a divine child who could save the snake clan. Eventually she married a saint named Jaratkaru and came to be known as Jaratkarupriya.
Marriage to Saint Jaratkaru; Birth of Astika
Saint Jaratkaru also had his own motive for marrying Manasa Devi and producing a child, which was to appease his ancestors and stop their fall of grace from the heavens. After the marriage a divine child, a son, was born. He was named Astika. However, once the child was conceived, unhappily for Manasa Devi her marriage was over, and Saint Jaratkaru resumed his old life as a wandering hermit.
She went to Kailash and continued her austerities. In this story she was a disciple of Lord Shiva; her son Astika grew up under the care and tutorship of Lord Shiva (his guru) and Vasuki Naag (his uncle) and fulfilled the wishes of his father, Saint Jaratkaru and his mother, Manasa Devi and the entire snake clan. Astika (as destined) stopped the great sacrifice of snakes and made peace between the humans and snakes. It’s said that the snakes even today in this particular area of India are harmless. Astika was a great sage in his own right and he saved his father’s ancestors from dropping down from heaven. As mother of Astika, Manasa Devi is known as Astika Mata.
How Manasa Devi Became Goddess
Manasa Devi is named Jagad Gauri because of her fair complexion. She is the disciple of Shiva, so she is called Shaivi. Manasa Devi is devoted to Lord Vishnu, so she is called Vaisnavi. She is named Naga Bhagini because she can remove the effect of poison. These are just a few of her names, but Manasa Devi has many sacred names attributed to her. It is said that she received her status as a goddess from Lord Krishna who she worshipped at the request of her guru, Lord Shiva. In turn, Lord Krishna worshipped Manasa Devi, which exalted her to goddess status. Mansa Devi is known as Siddha Yogini and Maha Jnanayuta.
A Graceful Goddess
Manasa or Mansa Devi is a form of Shakti. Manasa Devi is known as Nitya (eternal). She is described as a very beautiful goddess with four arms. She wears a red silk sari, holds a lotus in two hands, a snake in another and blesses with the other hand. She is surrounded by snakes and has a swan by her side. She sits on a pink lotus flower and rests her foot on a smaller blossom; the other leg is tucked up under her, as if in meditation. She wears elaborate headwear made of gold and decorated with hooded cobras, much like an Egyptian goddess. According to devotees of the divine mother, Manasa Devi has divine attributes and is recognised for her capacity to bless devotees and fulfil their prayers, wishes and desires.
Mata Mansa Devi Temple, Chandigarh
Mata Mansa Devi temple is dedicated to the Hindu goddess Mansa Devi, a form of Shakti (supreme mother goddess). The temple complex is located in the foothills of Shivalik montain range in the state of Haryana, India. The complex covers a vast one hundred acres. It is situated several kilometres outside of the city of Chandigarh, near to Mani Majra in the Panchkula district. One can easily get a bus to Mani Majra from Chandigarh bus stand.
There is a story which says that Maharaja Patiala (1891-1938) once dreamt of the great goddess who told him that she appeared at a place called Mani Majra. He followed the Divine Mother’s instructions and built a temple to glorify Mansa Devi and to win her blessings.
Many fabulous stories surround Mata Manasa Devi Temple; this holy location is like a magnet which attracts devotees of the divine mother, especially during the festivals of Navratri dedicated to the great mother goddess. Mata Mansa Devi temple is regarded as one of the main shakti peethas (seats of the deity); as the forehead of Sati is said to have fallen there. Mansa Devi temple, near to Chandigarh is a very popular temple in the region.
One of the highlights of a visit to Mansa Devi temple is to have the darshan (sight) of the majestic, old peepal tree, a tree considered to be sacred in India. Because the divine mother is known for her kindness, unbounded compassion and mercy, devotees place red and golden threads on the tree, representing their desires and prayers. Once the wishes or prayers are fulfilled the devotees comes back to thank Manasa Devi and untie the thread.