"We have been here since 11pm last night. We slept on the ground under a shade. Two of our family members suffer from asthma. We have heard a lot about this prasadam. That's why we are here. We hope it will work for us," says 32-year-old Mayank Sharma, as he stands in a long queue.
Mayank is one of thousands, waiting for their turn to receive the 'fish prasadam' administered by the Bathini Goud family at the Nampally Exhibition Grounds on Thursday.
Mayank says he came all the way from Bihar to try the prasadam after one of his friends tried it last year and saw an improvement in his health.
The Bathini Goud family claim to have been distributing their 'miraculous' fish prasadam since 1845, and claims that their 172-year-old secret recipe has the potential to cure asthma.
The family uses a specific murrel fish, and stuffs a yellow paste into its mouth, before making the visitor swallow it. They claim that the wriggling of the fish inside the person's throat helps to tackle the respiratory condition.
The family distributes the prasadam free of cost, and asks people to come for three consecutive years, to get cured.
Fish prasadam devotees
Even during the event on Thursday, people of all age groups from 3-year-old children to people who are 70 years old, could be seen.
30-year-old Ranju Singh reached Hyderabad on Thursday morning from Pathankot. She says this is the second year that her son is taking the prasadam.
"He is much better now. Last year, my parents brought him to Hyderabad, and this year I've come. It's all about faith. Only then the medicine works," she adds.
However, the event has not been without criticism.
Many rationalists and scientists, have come down heavily on the family every year, for administering an unscientific and unproven 'cure' to people.
Some organisations like the Jana Vignana Vedika even moved the Hyderabad High Court and obtained an order that the family could not market the 'cure' as a medicine, and had to call it a 'prasdam'.
When asked about the sceptics, Ranju says, "If it was bad for health, these many people would not have come."
In fact, the stories of the 'miraculous' prasadam travel so far, that people even fly down from other countries.
Arsalan (15), and Siddiqui (47), have flown down all the way from California in the US, after a friend recommended the fish prasadam to them.
"I wanted a VIP pass, but nobody seems to direct us properly. For the past two years, my son has breathing issues. We went to many doctors but they keep changing medicines every few months," Arsalan says.
He goes on, "My friend said that her cousin was cured with this prasadam and we wanted to give it a try. I just wish they made better arrangements."
The annual event has received constant support from successive state governments since the 1990s.
This year too, the Telangana government has made arrangements in and around the venue of the event, and deployed several thousand policemen.
State Animal Husbandry Minister Talasani Srinivas Yadav said that the Department of Fisheries had procured around two lakh fishlings had been procured for the event this year.
The family also takes the help of several volunteers, to dole out tokens, fish and the medicine itself at several counters.
Overenthusiasm or health risk?
"This prasadam has only natural ingredients and no chemicals. If the claim of pharmaceutical companies and scientists that the prasadam has several harmful effects is true, so many people would not turn up every year. No money is being charged, and this is being done as a service to the people," says Ravi, a volunteer, who has been helping out for the past 12 years.
While the sight of children crying is common, many adults remain unfazed even after swallowing the live fish.
"It tastes bitter, and I felt like I was about to throw up, but it is much better now. They asked us not to drink water for an hour. My son got scared when he saw the fish. He is still crying, but itâ€™s for his own good,â€ť says Sashi Choudhary, a 32-year-old native of Rajasthan.
There are also some problems that the organisers face with people overenthusiastic to force feed the medicine to their children.
While Harinath Goud, the present head of the family, announced that the prasadam should only be administered to children three years and above, this reporter saw that volunteers did not ask the parents about the age of the child.
In one case, even a two-year-old girl was administered the medicine.
Ravi says that some parents insist on giving the medicine to their children, even though they did not have any ailments.
"The parents insist that they came from Delhi and Mumbai just for the prasdam and it becomes hard to convince them that it is generally for children with breathing issues. However, since the prasadam is harmless, we do not say anything," says the volunteer.
At the venue, Harinath Goud sat on a small stage that was set up for him, and interacted with several people and volunteers.
Speaking to TNM, he lashed out at critics of the prasadam, and claimed that they were maligning him because his 'recipe' worked.
"In the 1990s, several pharma companies were jealous when they saw our success. Many had also approached me for my recipe, but I refused to cave in for the money. Since then, they have approached the media and continue to spread false messages about the prasadam," he said.
Many have also accused the Bathini Goud family of painting a rosy picture, and pointed out that crowd numbers have only been dwindling.
"Even the last year, many media reports claimed that only a few thousand people turned up. This is not true. Many people have faith and will continue to visit for many years," Harinath adds.
With inputs from Nitin B