Friday, 8 November 2013

Fighting it out with sticks

If today a majority of people sit back on Vijayadashami and watch the magnificent Dasara procession of Mysore on television, there is a small village bordering Andhra Pradesh where people have a go at teach other on this auspicious occasion.
The villagers here of course do pray on Vijaya Dashami and they also go to temples. But unlike in Mysore, the festivities do not culminate into a procession-the grand Jumboo Savari. Instead, we literally have fight where lathis, sticks, poles, bamboos and hands are so liberally used that people do get injured. Some have even died. But. No; the police are expected to remain mute spectators and they do not even register a case. After all, what is in a game, they may ask.
This village transforms itself into a war zone every Vijaya Dasham and a large number of people come from nearby areas to get their eye in onto the unique festival.       
Thousands of villagers congregate at Devaragudda (Neranaki village) near Holagunda on Vijaya Dashami as part of the Malamalleswara Swamy utsava. You see, Malleswaram Swamy is the village deity and the “war” is in his honour.
The festival begins on panchami when Lord Mallayya is engaged' to Goddess Mallamma. Their marriage is on Vijayadasami.
On this day, which also happens to signal the end of Dasara, the deity is carried by a person, who fasts for five nights.
The lathi-wielding devotees accompany the deity. The villagers of Neranaki guard the deity from being taken away by the people of other villages, especially those of Yellarthi and Arakeri.
The deity is then taken to Mulgandi, Padalgatti, and Rakshapade  villages before being returned to the temple at about 4.30 a.m. The ritual  of wielding of lathis continues till the deity is taken to a pre-designated place at the foothills of the hillock.
It is only when the deity reaches the spot, the lathi ritual comes to an end. Till then, the devotees, numbering thousands clash with each other with sticks and lathis and throw turmeric powder on one another even as they dance wildly to the beating of the drums.
The “battle of the sticks” reaches a crescendo as the utsava murthi called Guddada Mallaya, is brought in a procession from the temple sometime around midnight to the pre-designated spot. The temple is locates atop a small hillock. When the idol reaches the plains below the hill and torches are lit as it is evening, the devotees shout war cries and in a frenzy attack others. These devotees are all men and they literally cane and hit each other with gay abandon. If you thought that you can see such beatings only in films, come here and look at this spectacle.
This strange or rather bizarre ritual is held in two phases - the first time is when the deity is taken out from the temple and again on its way back- with an interval.
The men literally have a go at each other. The hits are really painful and in scores of cases, we can see blood oozing out. But who cares? Neither the man oozing blood nor the police on the scene do anything.
Minor injuries are passed over and although many people suffer injuries, the participants and the crowd care tow hoots. The spirit of the crowd is so high that they act as am intoxicant to the participants.
A few have been killed too or so claim the locals. Some whisper that it was an act of revenge. Bit who known and how cares. The law does not take note of this event and the policemen deputed to the festival, hold their lathis without making use of it.
Slowly the “Hit festival” comes to an end and the priest of the temple comes to the centrestage making prediction of the coming years. Once this is done, the idol is taken back to the temple.
This year, people from nearly 30 villages surrounding the temple at Alur in Kurnool district of Andhra Pradesh and also from Bellary and Sirguppa taluks in Karnataka, arrived with lathis studded with iron rings at one end.
The participants came in all mode of transport: from bullock carts to tom toms, tempos to lorries, cars, tractors, two-wheelers and some even took walk.
Talk to the villagers here and they will tell you that this time, two persons died and the condition of two injured, including a circle inspector of police, is still serious. More than a hundred suffered bleeding head injuries and this is as per the record maintained by the health officials. Only grievous injuries, where stitches or sutures are necessary, are entered. There is no entry in the register for people treated as outpatients. A 15-member team comprising doctors and para-medical staff attended to the injured.
When daylight dawns, the festival ends. The warring crowd turns devout and they propitiating the deity with fruits and flowers and then they light camphor. The devotees then make their way home, nursing their bruises and pretending as if nothing happened. Time is their only healer and this is till the next year. Neither do they lodge any complaint nor do the police intervene.
Ask both the people and the police about the injuries and fatalities. All they say is everything is fair in love and war. And though there is no love lost between the warring factions, there is probably no hate too. There is only gamesmanship and a devotion to tradition and this is one of the thousands of local traditions that make our people and country so unique in the world.    

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