Snake charming as it exists today probably originated in India although records of snake charming are mentioned in the bible in Psalm (58:3–5): "The wicked turn aside from birth; liars go astray as soon as they are born. Their venom is like that of a snake, like a deaf serpent that does not hear, that does not respond to the magicians, or to a skilled snake-charmer."
Hinduism has long held serpents, and in particular the cobra, to be sacred; the animals are believed to be related to the Nagas and many gods are pictured under the protection of the cobra. Indians have therefore considered snake charmers to be holy men influenced by the gods.
These days snake charmers are a dying breed finding it increasingly difficult to make a living visiting towns and markets and the numerous festivals that bring in the crowds.
Typically local snakes are used - in India this means the Indian Cobra (Naja naja) - also known as the spectacled cobra. Usually the snakes are either de-fanged or have their venom glands removed to make things safe - but nonetheless it's still a slightly nervous moment when you are lying on your stomach using a wide angled lens to shoot the snakes and one turns it's beady eyes on you and fixes you in it's gaze. It makes you wonder just how well the de-venoming operation has gone - or even whether it's been done at all. Incredible how quickly one can move from that position when needed!