Seventy injured in annual bloody sport in Andhra

Hyderabad, Oct 7 (IANS) At least 70 persons were injured in an annual bloody fight with sticks and fire by hundreds of devotees in Andhra Pradesh's Kurnool district.

Despite attempts by civil and police authorities to discourage it, thousands turned up to watch the gory event Thursday night in Devaragutta village, about 300 km from here.

Every year on the night of Vijayadasami, people of at least 20 villages in the region participate in the traditional fight with clubs to take control of the idols of deities during a procession.

The attempts by the authorities to discourage the bloody sport met with resistance from the villagers, who consider it part of their religious traditions.

Though police last night sealed the routes leading towards Mala Malleswara Swamy temple, thousands of devotees, including many from neighbouring states of Karnataka and Maharashtra, managed to reach there after midnight.

Over 1,000 policemen, including top officials, were mute spectators as the villagers attacked each other to snatch the idol. At least 70 persons sustained head injuries. The condition of two of them is stated to be critical.

Police say though the number of injured has come down compared to previous years, they still need to do a lot in creating awareness against the practice.

'It is difficult for police to control such a huge crowd especially during night time,' said Kurnool superintendent of police Shivaprasad.

He stressed the need for a coordinated campaign by all the departments to discourage participation in the fight.

However, locals said they would continue the tradition of their forefathers.

According to them, after the celestial wedding of Lord Shiva, who is known as Malleswara Swamy, with Mala Devi, the priest and the residents of Neraniki and a few other villages take the deities in a procession from the temple located in deep forests.

The fight breaks out when the other group led by villagers from Yallarthi and other villages try to snatch the deities in the belief that prosperity will prevail if they take the deities to their villages.

The villagers claim that their fight is re-enactment of a mythological fight in which Shiva killed two demons.

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