The Blood Soaked Worship
Mani and Mallasura were two demons who lived in Devaragattu hillocks and terrorized the saints there. Lord Shiva, hearing the pleas of his devotees, took the form of Bhairava on Vijayadashami day and vanquished the two demons with sticks. Before dying, the demons requested Shiva to give them human sacrifice every year. Refusing their plea, the Lord assured the offering of blood on the day. This age old myth is recreated every year by the people of Devaragutta, a village situated in Kurnool, Andhra Pradesh as the Bani festival.
On Vijayadashmi day, the clock strikes twelve and the battle begins.
The ritual starts as the procession of the idols of the ruling deities, Malamma and Malleshwara Swamy, are brought down the hill temple at Neraneki. As they come down, thousands of lathi-wielding people from the rival group, make a bid to stop the procession from going forward and a bloody battle breaks out.
The people with long bamboo sticks hit each each other on heads as the hysteria peaks. Many devotees who participate in the fight get injured. Medical teams and doctors are deployed for assistance, but most of them smear turmeric, tie their wounds and go on with their celebration. Drenched in crimson of the oozing blood, these men continue with the fight till the crack of dawn to commemorate Shiva’s victory.
The idols push through the fighting masses and reach Mulpanda in the wee hours of the morning. After performing puja, the temple priest slits his thigh to offer a fistful of blood to the deity. This is followed by another round of stick fight. The deity of the Lord is then placed at Simhasana katta and puja performed, marking the end of Bani festival.
Festivals are a way of life in India. They are colourful, vibrant, zealous and sometimes defy logic. To the outsiders watching, it is difficult to comprehend the harming of oneself and others in the name of God or worship. Yet to the pious devotees, it is their tradition. A custom dating back to their forefathers that they continue with dedication. They are proud of it. They enjoy it. They cherish it. And above all, they consider each drop of blood shed that day as their offering to the Lord they adore.