Thousands of asthma patients lined up on Saturday to swallow tiny fish stuffed with a medicinal paste in the hope that the "wonder drug" would give them relief from nagging respiratory problems.
An estimated 50,000 people have been administered the "fish prasadam" or holy offering since Friday night at the sprawling exhibition Grounds and hundreds more were waiting to receive it.
The distribution of the medicine, which began at 10 pm on Friday, is expected to continue till 10 pm on Saturday.
Notwithstanding the campaign by rationalists and physicians against the "unscientific" drug, thousands from across the country and some from abroad lined up to take the fish medicine, distributed by the Bathini Goud family free of cost on the Mrigasira Karti day of the Hindu calendar.
The medicine, which the family has been distributing for 160 years, consists of a yellow herbal paste, the ingredients of which have remained a family secret. The paste is first stuffed into a live three centimetre-long murrel fish that is then slipped through the throat of the patient.
If taken for three successive years, the medicine is believed to cure asthma.
About 300 members of Bathini Goud family and volunteers administered the medicine at 24 counters. Though the distribution was to start at 9.15 pm, the auspicious time decided by astrologers, it began only at 10 pm as the family was caught in a traffic jam near the venue.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) state president Bandaru Dattatreya was the first to take the medicine from Bathini Harinath Goud. Secunderabad MP Anjan Kumar Yadav also took the medicine.
Though the number of patients coming for the event has drastically come down over the last five years due to the controversy surrounding the ingredients of the herbal paste, thousands still throng to receive it out of faith.
It is for this reason that the Goud family renamed the event as "fish prasadam" three years ago in the face of the controversy.
The family claims that in 1845 a holy man passed on the formula for the miracle medicine to their great-grandfather Veranna Goud, if he promised to distribute it free of cost and never reveal the ingredients to others.
The family has consistently turned down demands from rationalists and physicians to reveal the ingredients, claiming the medicine would lose its efficacy.
For many the controversy has no relevance.
"People say many things but my belief is that it works," said Narayan Yadav, who has come all the way from Uttar Pradesh. It is the second consecutive year Yadav is taking the medicine, and he hopes to come back next year too.
"I heard about the medicine from others who had taken it. The medicine has given them some relief," he said.
For Biswajit Swain from Orissa, it is his first stint with the medicine. "Many people told me that it is very effective. I have tried many medicines to get rid of asthma and thought I should try this one too," he said.
The medicine has drawn even foreigners.
T Lora, a 23-year-old Russian, was among the few foreigners who turned up this year. "I have come for the first time. My cousin recommended me to take the fish medicine. I hope it works," she said, adding she plans to come next year too.
Though the medicine no longer enjoys the kind of patronage given by then chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu, the government departments continue to make elaborate arrangements for the smooth conduct of the event.
The fisheries departments supplied 100,000 murrel fingerlings while other departments arranged for transport and water. Several NGOs too came forwards to arrange food for the patients.