There is a temple in Andhra Pradesh where devotees go all equipped to kill or be killed. Every Dussehra night, the Devaragattu temple in Kurnool district of Andhra Pradesh witnesses frenzy where hundreds of men wielding long sticks (lathis) hit each other on heads.
The event, called Banni festival, at the temple located near the Andhra-Karnataka border, draws people from both states in huge numbers. The ritual takes place at midnight when the procession idols of the ruling deities Malamma (Parvati) and Malleshwara Swamy (Shiva) are brought down the hill temple at Neraneki.
Men, mostly farmers, do not budge even as their white shirts are drenched red with blood and the “victory parade” to commemorate the killing of a demon by Mala-Malleshwara continues till the break of dawn.
A scene from the Banni festival. HT photo
Medical teams are deployed and doctors ready to stitch heads but many just smear turmeric on the wound and go about the business.
Temple authorities refute any suggestion of violence in the whole episode.
“It is like dandiya only that we use large sticks. Devotees are charged at that time and in the swirling of the sticks some get hurt,” Ramkumar Shastri, a priest at the temple tells HT. “In olden days, it used to be axes, spears etc.”The ritual in the region once under the Vijayanagara Empire is said to be centuries old and according to a local police official, has one hundred years of recorded history.
Banni festival. HT photo
The records though do not show many deaths. According to the district police 113 were injured in 2012, 34 in 2013. On Friday night, 56 were injured. A man was killed in 2006 but police say it was a revenge killing committed with the ritual as a cover-up.
Kurnool SP Ake Ravikrishna says that they conduct awareness camps, clampdown on arrack sale and bind over the anti-social elements but on the Dussehra night, about 1,000 police personnel at the venue are mostly limited to the audience as the sentiments and tempers run high.
Here are some more pictures from the festival: