On the eve of Dussehra, thousands of people carrying flaming torches and long sticks poured into Devaragattu in Andhra Pradesh's Kurnool district. People from nearby villages and Bellary district in Karnataka gathered at the Mala Malleswara Swamy temple on Saturday to participate in the annual 11-day 'Banni' festival.
The festival 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.
Every year many people are left injured despite police supervision. Though casualties have decreased with each passing year.
The temple is owned and managed by the residents of Neraniki village who protect these deities.
According to reports, 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.
While the police and district administration has tried to stop the mock fight multiple times, as several people have died in the past, locals strongly oppose the move as it has been going on for generations.
Those that get injured just apply turmeric powder on their wounds and leave the venue.
Therefore, the police have started focusing on reducing the number of injuries with each passing year.
This year, the police deployed drones and installed several CCTV cameras, to track the festival in real time.
Earlier this week, Kurnool Collector S Satyanarayana asked officials to put up barricades around the temple, and keep several ambulances ready. He also assured uninterrupted power and water supply to the area.
Following the Collector's directive, Superintendent of Police Gopinath Jatti visited Devaragattu and said that 1,200 policemen had been deployed to avoid any untoward incident.
Speaking to India Today, SP Gopinath Jetty said, "In comparison to last year, injuries are comparatively less this time, because of our active participation. A total of 11 people have been admitted for treatment."