'Stick'ing to an age-old Dasara ritual fight

 The Mala Malleshwara Temple premises across the border of the State was resounding with the shouts of devotees on the occasion of Vijayadashami on Wednesday night.

The presence of thousands of policemen to keep watch to prevent any violence at the temple, situated at Devaramallayyana Gudda in Holagunda Mandala in Andhra Pradesh, bordering Karnataka, also seemed a little ironic.

The reason: the people expressed their devotion by hitting one another.  The devotees at the temple, on the one hand, offered wealth to the deity, while on the other hand, they armed themselves with long sticks, shouting slogans of devotion.

And then, they started the fight.The annual ritual ‘friendly fight’, infamous for the overnight bloodshed, is thousands of years old, and a special festival at the temple. After a round of special rituals including poojas, the devotees begin a mock theft, stealing the idols and running away in the light of torches on an adventurous night down the hill.

Blood is literally shed in this ritual fight, as hundreds of the enthusiastically fighting devotees are injured while hitting and receiving strikes from friends.
The fighters are too enamoured by the fights to notice blood seeping from various parts of the body. They are cheered on by the other devotees sitting in the temple grounds.

The only period of any silence is when the priest at the temple takes over the recital of the prayers, which inspires the fighters to calm down.

The deities are then returned to the temple, the sounds of the sticks wears down, the devotees all ‘forget and forgive’ their co-fighters and even offer their own rounds of prayers before leaving for their respective villages.

The Andhra Pradesh government always appoints thousands of police staff and officers and also brings in paramilitary force for safety purposes.

This year, however, the police preferred to remain in the background and watch over the devotees to prevent unlawful activities.

“This is, after all, a fight offered to the deity. And we fight right under the eyes of the law. Then how can we complain to the police even if there are deaths or serious injuries?” ask the devotees.

Wearing banni flowers, offering blood, reciting prayers and other rituals are also performed in the light of the torches by the stick-armed devotees. The sound of the sticks only shocks the other devotees into becoming silent onlookers.

Watching the devotees fighting in this manner, hardly caring whether they bleed or others do, requires virtually as much courage as actually fighting, say several spectators.

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