Despite prohibitory orders, thousands gather for annual 'stick fight' in Andhra

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Despite prohibitory orders in place due to the coronavirus pandemic, the annual ‘Devaragattu’ stick fighting festival, known as ‘Banni Utsavam’, took place in Andhra Pradesh’s Kurnool district. Though police strictly urged people not to celebrate the festival this year due to COVID-19, thousands gathered at Devaragattu village on Monday night. According to reports in regional media, Around 50 people have been injured, out of which two people suffered critical injuries, after participating in the festivities. 

There was a reported difficulty in providing treatment to the persons who were injured as the authorities did not set up a medical care center as the case is usually, due to COVID-19 safety guidelines that were in place. According to reports, a large number of devotees from neighbouring districts as well as parts of Karnataka, arrived to attend the event.

As part of the festivities each year, thousands arrive at the village carrying flaming torches and long sticks. The festival, held in honour of the Mala Malleswara Swamy temple in the village, involves a stick-fight where participants try to take possession of two deities. The locals believe that if they manage to take possession of the idols, it will bring prosperity to their village.

Ahead of the event, District Superintendent of Police (SP) announced the cancellation of the festivities. Fakkeerappa Kaginelli said, "It has been cancelled. This year, we are not celebrating the festival in view of COVID-19 restrictions. Necessary preventive action has been taken." 

The police deployed more than 1,200 personnel, set up 20 checkposts and imposed Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which prevents more than five people from gathering at a spot. District authorities also took up several awareness campaigns against celebrating the festival as it may lead to the spread of COVID-19. However, despite these efforts, people from the village, nearby districts and also neighbouring states descended on Devaragattu at around midnight to celebrate the festival.

(With IANS inputs)