Snake Charmers – Unique form of entertainment in Pakistan

Snake Charmers
Snake charmer entertaining the public at Karachi Sea view.

Pakistan, a land of many unusual, surprising yet exciting talents that you may not find anywhere in the world. We serve the best street food and make you travel in the most fascinating vehicles – Our Truck Art Buses and Rickshaws. We own architectural gems from the Mughal Empire to the modern-day planning giving a rich contrast between the city and the countryside. But leaving all that aside, we also provide you with the best street entertainment which isn’t at all like the buskers you see elsewhere. Lets put it this way, you might have heard of training an animal but have you ever come across hypnotizing a snake?

No? There you go!

Pakistan presents to you one of a kind and unique in every sense – Snake Charmers. Although originated in India, this art has been harboured in Pakistan where some appreciate it, and others hardly pay any heed.

Snake charmers are dressed in saggy orange long shirts, wearing long beaded necklaces and a pagri (tubran) on their heads with a basket in which they hide their gem – the snake. You would probably see them down a busy shopping street, residential areas, seaside and at times sitting next to the traffic light. They aim to entertain a young audience with the music coming from the ‘Pungi’ (flute). Once the tune starts, the snake rises from the open lid basket to woo the audience. Contrary to popular belief, the sound of the flute does not attract snakes because they do not have external ears. Therefore, they can slightly hear low-frequency rumbles. In fact, snakes are drawn towards the movement of the Pungi as they find it threatening, which results in making them get out of their basket in the form of self-defense.

General thinking across the board is that snakes are a threat because they are venomous. However, these snake charmers take pride in their work saying that it is something that they inherited from their ancestors.

The professional snake charmers are never afraid of being bitten by a snake as they believe that a snake would never hurt his master. Nonetheless, if they are ever bitten, they cure themselves through the help of traditional remedies. Most of them receive Rs50 to Rs200 for their entertainment services. Today, there is a significant drop in the profession due to lack of demand for this entertainment. To earn a livelihood, snake charmers are now selling their snakes to laboratories so they can feed their families.

Some snake charmers go in villages and collect snakes that they sell to laboratories, which use the poison in the snake for medical purposes. Other more knowledgeable snake charmers collect snakes to make herbal medicines from their venom. They believe that religious ‘pirs’ have given them extraordinary powers to live with the snakes because they provide a remedy for many ailments yet they face a lack of acknowledgement in the society.

Building up to the fact that snake charmers use the snakes for their own personal gain, it is also said that their masters subject them to torture. As the charmers try to get rid of the venom for self-protection, they tend to pierce the venom vessels with hot needles causing glands to burst. Also, some charmers take out their teeth or sew their mouths so that the snakes do not bite anyone.

Since several years, the charmers stand beside their means of livelihood and ask for government’s help to build sanctuaries for them as well as research centers. This will help their profession and make the general public understand the concept of snake charming better, yet the question of whether it is ethical or not remains to be addressed. Should a poisonous reptile’s life be put at stake for the sake of human entertainment? Unlike India, we still have not made hunting snakes illegal or using them as a means of livelihood.