Article — From the November 2007 issue

Woman Marries Snake

A peculiar Indian love story

Bhubaneswar, June 2. A woman, who claimed to have fallen in love with a snake got “married” to the reptile as per Hindu rituals at Atala village of Orissa’s Khurda district, 14 km from here. The unusual marriage took place on Wednesday with over 2,000 people taking out a procession to celebrate the event. . . . When Bimbala [Das] disclosed her idea of marrying a snake, villagers reportedly appreciated it saying the marriage will bring good fortune to the area.
—“Woman marries snake,”
Press Trust of India
June 3, 2006
 

Thirty-year-old Bimbala Das’s marriage to a cobra made her for a little while last year the most famous woman in the east Indian state of Orissa, although — being illiterate and possessing no radio, television, telephone, or computer — she was likely unaware of the extent of her fame.

An ambitious young television reporter named Umakanta Mishra, based in the nearby state capital of Bhubaneswar, first broke Bimbala’s story. A print journalist named Satyasundar Barik saw the TV coverage, and although he neither witnessed the wedding nor visited Atala village, he did speak on the telephone with the village headman and put together two hundred or so words on the marriage.

It was Barik’s reporting that quickly spread around the world. Barik works for the Press Trust of India, the largest of the Indian wire services, and the story was published in all of the major Indian dailies, then picked up by the international wire services and translated into two dozen languages, including Malay, Polish, Chinese, Russian, Greek, Portuguese, Italian, French, Spanish — and Latin. Dozens and dozens of newspapers ran the story. It was featured in Yahoo’s Odd News section.

Then the story was blogged. Hundreds of bloggers linked to the story, and thousands of blog readers commented on those posts. Many, many people wrote that they or their sisters had also married a snake. A controversy followed. Gay bloggers wondered why, if this woman could marry a snake, they couldn’t marry their beloveds. Conservative bloggers argued that if gays were allowed to marry, next thing you know, people would be marrying snakes. Christian bloggers affirmed that the whole thing was clearly in violation of God’s natural law. Hindu bloggers also took issue with the marriage, saying that this was the kind of thing that made the world think Hindus were weird.

Bimbala neared the epitome of her fame when Daniel Henninger, a Wall Street Journal opinion-page editor, referred to her on Fox News. “A woman in India last week married a snake,” he said. “And it was done at a traditional Hindu ceremony attended by 2,000 people. Now, I would like to ask the proponents of gay marriage, which after all violates traditions going back through all of human history, to now absolutely positively guarantee that the next movement is not going to be allowing people to marry their pet horse, dog, or cat.”

But the very height of Bimbala’s glory came a few days later, when Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central countered Mr. Henninger’s attacks on Bimbala’s behalf, pointing out that the marriage was, after all, a heterosexual union, the snake in question being male.

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