Thousands of asthma patients from different parts of the country, hoping to be cured, take ‘fish prasadam’ which has been distributed by a family in Hyderabad for more than 160 years.
Despite the controversies which hit the popularity of the ‘miracle drug’ in recent years, people continue to throng the venue in the hope of finding some relief to their nagging respiratory problems.
Since Wednesday night, about 20,000 people gathered in Hyderabad at the sprawling Exhibition Grounds have taken the ‘prasadam’ being distributed by the Baithini Goud family in the heart of the city. Hundreds more were standing in queues Thursday morning.
They gulped down a live ‘murrel’ fish with a yellow herbal paste in its mouth, which is believed to provide the much-needed relief, if taken for three consecutive years. For vegetarians, the family gives the medicine with jaggery.
The turnout, however, was not in lakhs as claimed by the family, which changed the name of the fish medicine to ‘fish prasadam’ four years ago to avoid legal problems.
The free distribution of ‘prasadam’ began at 10.30pm on Wednesday at 32 counters after the Goud family performed ‘puja’ at their ancestral house in Doodhbowli in the old city.
Family head Bathini Harinath Goud said the counters would remain open till 10 p.m. Thursday or till the last patient gets ‘prasadam’.
Men, women and children lined up for taking the medicine several hours before the counters opened.
It was sheer faith which brought many to the venue. “This is the third time I have come here as I got some relief earlier,” said Bhumiya Naik, who came from Latur, Maharashtra.
There were many first-timers like Ajmal Khan from Bidar, Karnataka. He heard about the medicine from his friends. “I have been suffering from asthma for the last seven years. I have tried everything but nothing worked. Now I want to try this,” he said.
The fisheries department has supplied 40,000 murrel fingerlings for the annual event held every year on the first day of 'Mrigasira Karti', which heralds the onset of monsoon.
Over 600 policemen have been deployed at the venue as part of security measures. Various departments are providing water, sanitation and other basic amenities to the patients. Voluntary organisations have also chipped in by distributing free food and water packets.
On the directions of the Andhra Pradesh Human Rights Commission, the Hyderabad district administration was ensuring that no child is forcibly given the fish medicine. The rights panel had issued the order early this week on the petition by an organization for children’s rights, Balala Hakkula Sangham.
The NGO argued that forcibly giving fish medicine was a violation of children's rights. It also alleged that distribution of the medicine under unhygienic conditions may cause more harm than good.
The fish medicine lost its popularity in recent years after some groups, working to inculcate scientific temper among people, termed it as a fraud. They also approached a lower court, claiming that since the herbal paste contains heavy metals it can cause serious health problems.
But the Goud family claims that the tests in laboratories conducted as per court orders revealed that the herbal paste is safe.
The Goud family has been distributing the 'fish prasadam' free of cost for the last 165 years. It claims that the secret formula for the herbal medicine was given to their ancestors in 1845 by a saint after taking an oath from him that it would be administered free of cost.