The monsoon rains that flood wide stretches of South Asia each year force creatures large and small onto whatever dry land can be found...

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NEW DELHI — The monsoon rains that flood wide stretches of South Asia each year force creatures large and small onto whatever dry land can be found, and the result is scores, if not hundreds, of fatal snake bites.

“Everything, everyone, is restricted to tiny, tiny islands with very little space,” said Romulus Whitaker, a snake expert. “Everyone is crammed in together and the chances of running into snakes, stepping on them, grabbing them and sleeping on them is much, much more.”

That’s how Paltu Ram, a farmer in his 20s, died.

Stranded with a few hundred villagers on a sliver of land encircled by floodwaters in the Bara Banki district of northern India, about 370 miles east of New Delhi, he decided to climb a tree to see if he could spot a rescue boat.

On his way up, he reached for what looked like a brown rope. It wasn’t — and when he grabbed it, the snake recoiled and struck, sinking its fangs into his arm.

“Paltu jumped into water saying he was bitten by snake. Before he could be taken to a doctor, he died,” said his father, Rameshwar, who couldn’t say what kind of snake got his son.

So tight is the association of snakes with the monsoon season that serpents have been both feared and revered for centuries in much of the subcontinent — much like the rains themselves.

The monsoon season is vital for farmers, who provide a livelihood for two-thirds of India’s 1.1 billion people. But this year’s monsoon has been calamitous: At least 2,090 people have been killed across South Asia and 19 million forced from their homes.

Snakes are not the only dangerous creatures that compete with people for dry land. In India’s northeastern Assam state, flooding forced rhinos from their habitat at the Kaziranga National Park last week. Their panicked charges killed one person and injured two others.

Hundreds of people in India have been bitten by snakes this season, though officials don’t keep exact figures, and experts say even annual totals are considered unreliable. But in neighboring Bangladesh, the government said at least 35 of the 226 people killed in the monsoon have died of snake bites. It has been the country’s second-highest cause of death after drowning.

There are hundreds of different snakes on the subcontinent, many of which are venomous. But only four are responsible for the vast majority of deaths — kraits, Russell’s vipers, saw-scaled vipers and cobras.

All are extremely dangerous — and all are venerated.

The appearance of those snakes, especially cobras, has long been viewed as a harbinger of coming floods and the renewed fertility that follows. Their disappearance is considered an omen of a coming drought.

In some parts of India, it is also believed snakes can cause plagues by blowing their breath across the land, and malaria is known as snake-wind disease.

Hindu gods are often depicted with cobras: Shiva is seen wearing a girdle of serpents and cobras for earrings; Vishnu is pictured resting on the coils of a multi-headed cobra.

In India and Nepal, where authorities say a handful of the 92 people killed by this year’s monsoon died from snake bites, there is even a special holiday to worship them.

There are no hard figures for the density of the snake population on the subcontinent, but anecdotal evidence suggest it’s high. Whitaker said the tribal hunters he works with can pull two or three cobras from a 5-acre rice paddy in a day.