Anandapur Chronicles: The Naagmani

Satyakam Ray

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. – Maya Angelou.

History is not only about who won the battles, who owned what, or what dramatized incidents happened over the centuries. An essential factor missing in the historian’s narrative is people’s personal lives, struggles, achievements, perceptions, and ambitions. Personal experiences can surmise a generation’s existence and way of living. These human touches are often missing if you read any history book.

Anandapur is an influential small town in the Keonjhar district, my mother’s hometown. One of my favorite places for vacation during my school days has always been the vast greenery surrounding Keonjhar. Even I have fond memories of the place as a vacation place.

Over a cup of tea, I listen to my mother’s stories of growing up as a kid, teen, and adult. This chronicle is all about the stories I have heard from my mother since childhood.

This chronicle is a collection of real-life short stories experienced by Maa and passed on to me as a heritage. It is an earnest effort to capture the nuisance and nitty-gritty of social life in the 1970s-80s.

I heard the anecdote over a hot ginger tea on a lazy weekend afternoon.

The tea was getting cold, and I persuaded Maa to give me company and narrate one Anandapur story. She thought for a moment and started this story. The story is about 1983 when she worked in a high school, Brajabandhu Vidya Pitha.

The high school was close to the football playground, which stands next to a vast cashew garden—the cashew garden borders the banks of the Baitarani River, which flows by Anandapur.

The river is flooded yearly, and the floodwater engulfs the vast arena of cashew gardens. Different snakes, animals, or even logs from the jungle are washed away from the upper section of the river to the lower delta or bank area.

In this way, when floodwater goes away, now and then, some primate forms from the jungle remain in the cashew garden and occasionally roam around outside to the amusement or, instead, the horror of the curious onlookers.

Maa knew that one such incident was that of a meandering Maninaag. For readers curious about this Maninaag, this type of cobra holds a mani or precious stone on its hood, which radiates light at night; it is scarce. For many scientists, this type of snake is a myth only. But sporadic references to Naagmani and its powers have been made in folklore, and only some eyewitnesses confirm this.

In the story, a group of teenagers used to go for tuition at the M.E. school premises, which was very close to the high school. The high school boundary was visible from the place where students were sitting.

One enterprising student once noted an unusual event that was beyond his fathom. Around 7 p.m., a light traveled at 1ft/2ft from the ground. It looked like a torch. But the holder of the torch was not visible. It’s unusual, considering the place was secluded, and nobody went near the playground or cashew garden at night. The same incident kept happening for a week.

Unable to keep the incident to himself, he blurted it out to his friends. Soon, the whole gang witnessed the bizarre incident. The teacher who gave the tuition also came to know. The mystery became a hot discussion topic among teachers. Several theories were proposed. Many guessed it as a ghost!

Unable to keep the excitement down, they decided to test the veracity of the claims. Here came the enthusiastic soul, one worker of the school, who promised to have a look at the thing personally.

The person(Rabi) waited near the high school boundary wall, where the torch allegedly passed at a fixed time. A group of teachers and students waited inside the school premises with bated breath.

The time was almost 7 p.m. It was pitch dark, and complete silence prevailed. The group could hear only a few howling dogs in the distance. Occasional rumblings of the leaves and swaying of the trees were audible in the near vicinity on that misty winter evening.

Rabi’s heart was beating very fast. Finally, the propitious moment came when the torch holder came into view. It was a very long snake(around 7-8 ft., as described by Rabi), and a glowing stone/pearl shone on his hood. The snake’s hood was at least two feet above the ground. It was coming at a majestic pace with a distinctive swag and was making a deep hissing sound. On a closer look, Rabi found that the light was slightly yellowish.

It is an actual incident without a single iota of fabrication or exaggeration. It is the close encounter of the eyewitness from whom Maa heard it. Of course, after the encounter, Rabi fainted for a while. The gang hiding on the school premises came to the rescue.

The incident, the next day, spread like wildfire. According to Maa’s not-so-vivid memory, nothing happened after that. The tuition classes were canceled from the school premises for apparent reasons. The story continued its form as a small-town myth, and few people believe it now. But the account was authentic 100%.

Maybe the snake had escaped the jungle through the flood and decided to further his stay in the cashew jungle. Every day, the snake came from nowhere near the cashew garden, then went past the school boundary and crossed the road, vanishing from sight.

Nobody knows what happened to that snake and how the onlookers reacted to its existence.

The Naagmani myth continues today. If any resident of Anandapur reading this story happens to know anything about it, you’re more than welcome to narrate your versions to me. I am curious as hell, and so do my readers!

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