In the past, snake charmers were considered an Indian icon, without which no tourist brochure was complete. They were highly revered and admired by tourists and locals alike, and thousands of street performers made a decent living from the profession.
But since the government banned snake charming in 1991, they have had a harder time displaying their skills without getting caught, and their snakes confiscated.
However, despite all the hardships, some die hard snake charmers continue to practice the profession against all odds. Among them is the Vadi tribe, a nomadic group of people who live in Western India, near the State of Gujarat.
For them this is a tradition that goes back generations, all the way back to the time when India was ruled by Kings or Rajas, and they refuse to give it up.
The Vadi children, begin to learn about snakes when they turn two and are completely conversant with every aspect of their profession, by the time they turn twelve. While both girls and boys are taught the art, they perform different duties when they grow up. Boys are taught to charm the reptiles with the flute, while girls learn how to take care of the snakes and handle them when the men are out.
Though it may seem dangerous, these kids are born around these reptiles and seem to have no fear at all. In fact one of the elder tribesman claims that in his entire life he has only known of one person who got bitten - And that was because he kept the snake for a period longer then the stipulated seven years, which brought him bad luck.
While the government and animal protectionists believe the animals are subjected to inhumane treatment, the people of the tribe beg to defer. They take a lot of pride in looking after the snakes, treating them with great respect. Contrary to popular belief, the fangs are not removed, but instead treated with an herbal mixture, which renders their deadly poison useless. The effects of the herbal mixture wear off in due time, so that the snakes can lead a normal life when they are released into the wild.
We wonder how long the Vadi and other similar tribes will continue to pass on this amazing art and hope that the people of India find some way to keep this skill alive for future generations to see and admire.