Devaragattu, a small village near Karnataka border in Kurnool district, presents a rare spectacle now. The village is in control of the police. They are seen busily engaged in fixing a 100 closed- circuit cameras

 

About 1300 police personnel, three times more than the population of the village, have been deployed in the village to ensure law and order situation is maintained in and around the village.

 

Many senior officials including, DIG Ramana Murthy and Superintendent of Police, A Ravikrishna visited the village and had an extended interaction with the village elders.  The movements of the villagers are under close watch.

 

All of this is to prevent the fierce fight among the villagers to let a few drops of their blood spilt in the jostling to touch the feet of Utsava Vigrahalu of Lord Siva and his consort Parvati on the midnight of Vijayadasami day.

 

The competition to touch the holy statue has turned into a violent battle (stick fight) in the course of time, which sometimes had led to the death of participants. While villagers are keen to see age-old tradition of blood-shedding continue, young SP Ravi Krishna is all for reforming it into a peaceful event.

 

“We have almost succeeded in removing much of the violence from the event with the help of villagers. We are not against the tradition, but we want the fight to be a symbolic one --rather than a fierce battle of villagers--” Ravi Krishna told Asianet Newsable after a visit to the village to oversee the security and festival arrangements.

 

He said this was part of a tradition to offer five drops of blood to the God.

 

The village now looks like a police camp as the villagers are getting ready for the Banni Festival (Stick fight) on the midnight of October 11, 2016, at the Mala Malleswara temple situated on a nearby hillock, and the police hell bent on preventing the event becoming a violent one.

 

Devaragattu village hits headlines on Vijayadasami day every year without fail.  The tribal people of Neraniki Thanda in association with nearby villages celebrate this festival every year in a unique way by spilling blood in copious quantities. The height of the 10-day festival is the stick fight to spill the blood in the crudest way.

 

According to the Superintendent of Police, Ravikrishna, the festival has been celebrated for centuries. Police recording dates back to 150 years.

Like all temples, Mala Malleswara Temple has also had its folklore constructed around it.

 

According to the village legend, two monsters, living in the thick jungle near the village, used to harass the saints of the locality. Fed up with the harassment, the saints offered prayers to Lord Shiva and Parvati to get rid of these demons.

 

Finally, Lord Shiva eliminated the demons. While dying, the demons urged the God to ask the villagers offer human sacrifice every year from them. But Lord Shiva assured only five drops of blood at the place’ Rakshapada” where they died.

 

The celebration of the elimination of demons is marked by carrying of the statues of Lord Shiva and Parvati down the hillock to a place called Padalakatta, where a priest offers his own blood (five drops) to Lord Shiva.  

 

The Lord is carried to the Padalakatta in a procession to the drum beating and folk chant and the people of nearby villages vie with each other to touch the statues with sticks and torches (some say they attempt to stop the procession of God for few seconds which they believe would fetch luck to their village). During the festival time, villagers shun liquor.

 

People participate in the competition with sticks with metal rings which are responsible for the severe injuries during the fight. Unmindful of the injuries, smearing “bandaru”, a sacred powder, to the wound they surge ahead fighting with other to touch or stop Gods Aswavahanam.

 

The fierce completion invariably led to the serious injuries.  Blood shedding is seen as an act to please Lord Shiva. In 2011 about 99 people sustained injuries while some serious. About 85 injured in 2014.

 

But, later, the police have succeeded in educating the people about the peaceful conduct of the festival. “We have persuaded them to remove the metal rings from the sticks they carry. Carrying a stick was necessary when the area was a thick jungle. Now it is not necessary as a clear path is paved to the temple atop the hill.  We are working hard to convince them of this. We are hopeful of a total change very soon,” Ravikrishna evinced confidence.

 

The festival attracts a large number of devotees from Rayalaseema and Karnataka region, and of course, a huge contingent of media personnel.