At least thirty five people were injured, including two of them grievously, during an annual stick fight ritual in Andhra Pradesh's Kurnool district on Saturday. Every year, on the eve of Dussehra, thousands of people carrying flaming torches and long sticks pour into Devaragattu village. People from nearby villages and Bellary district in Karnataka also gather at the spot.
The festival, held in honour of the Mala Malleswara Swamy temple in the village, involves a mock stick-fight where participants try and take possession of two deities, believing that it would bring prosperity to their village if they managed to win any of the idols.
Despite counselling from authorities and advise against conducting the stick fight, locals remain insistent each year and report several injuries and in some cases, even death.
Keeping this in mind, the district administration and police began counselling the locals well in advance this year, with everything from simple posters to even short films.
Over 1,000 police personnel were deployed and CCTV and drone cameras monitored the entire event. They also set up a makeshift facility to treat the injured at the spot and kept ambulances ready to shift the more seriously injured to the closest town for better treatment.
Despite repeated requests by the police to not use sticks or be so violent- people in Devaragutta, Kurnool, celebrated Banni festival just like every year. This time 32 people were injured, of which two of them are in critical condition. #AndhraPradesh #TDP #VijayaDashmi #AP pic.twitter.com/WIOOf3PZK4— Rishika Sadam (@RishikaSadam) October 20, 2018
The temple is owned and managed by the residents of Neraniki village who protect these deities.
The locals tell a story of two demons, Mani and Mallasura, who lived in the nearby hillocks and tortured saints. The saints, in turn, prayed to Lord Parameswara and Parvati to rescue them. The Lord is then said to have appeared on a stone atop the hillock and eliminated the demons on the night of Dussehra.
Since then, the villagers offer prayers to Sri Mala Malleswara Swamy and Parvati Devi and carry the idols down the hillock.