Snake charming is the practice of pretending to hypnotise a snake by playing an instrument called pungi. A typical performance may also include handling the snakes or performing other seemingly dangerous acts, as well as other street performance staples, like juggling and sleight of hand. The practice is most common in India, though other Asian nations such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Malaysia are also home to performers, as are the North African countries of Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia.
Ancient Egypt was home to one form of snake charming, though the practice as it exists today likely arose in India.
Although snakes are able to sense sound, they lack the outer ear that would enable them to hear the music. They follow the pungi that the “snake charmer” holds with their hands. The snake considers the person and pungi a threat and responds to it as if it were a predator.
The Indian cobra’s celebrity comes from its popularity as a snake of choice for snake charmers. The cobra’s dramatic threat posture makes for a unique spectacle as it appears to sway to the tune of a snake charmer’s flute. Snake charmers with their cobras in a wicker basket are a common sight in many parts of India only during the Nag Panchami or Naagula Chavithi festival.