Bengaluru: The haystacks are lit, the cattle readied and as the sun dips over the horizon, 'Kichchu Haisodu' gets underway with cattle across the city jumping over the flaming bonfires that marks the first day of the Sankranti festival and the last day of Margashirsha month.
The belief, that has endured through the centuries in this once largely agrarian community is that one leap across the fire keeps the cattle disease free for the whole year. The bonus? The owners, get a huge helping of Lady Luck!
On Saturday, however, as the southern state of Tamil Nadu faced down the controversy over the suspended ban on the Jallikattu cattle race that marks the Tamil festival of Pongal, animal activists in the city upped the ante, saying this kind of a ritual amounts to animal abuse. People for Cattle in India member, Ritika Goel says: "This is another form of cattle abuse. It is illegal."
As evening sets over the Patalamma temple in Jayanagar, a haystack is set on fire. One by one the cattle are brought in a line before the flaming rows of hay. The owners grab the cows and bulls by their halters and prod the animals to jump over the fire stacks.
The cattle, it must be said though are treated like kings. Painted red and yellow, with coloured powder streaked across their foreheads, bedecked with flowers, and fed a feast of cooked rice, jaggery, and coconuts that's laid before them. After, the fire, of course.
Those who indulge in this practice say there is a science behind the trial by fire. Muniraju, who has been organizing the fire jump for many years at the Patalamma Temple says "The cattle are not hurt. This is a ritual that's done to prepare the cattle for the summer when the work on fields begin."
Srinivas, Muniraju's brother says, "This tradition is hundreds of years old. No cattle are harmed. Making cattle jump over the fire ensure that ticks fall off due to the heat thereby making the cattle healthier."
Ashwanth Reddy who owns a farmhouse on the outskirts on the city couldn't agree more, "The cattle are first bathed in turmeric water because turmeric has antimicrobial properties and it helps to treat any skin diseases."
Says milk vendor Madhu from Anekal: "The horns, and in many cases the hooves, are painted because the paint acts as a repellent against flies. The cows are led across the rows of fire so the heat from the fire kills any ticks or flies' eggs that have attached themselves to the cow's legs." A purification, yes. Hasn't anyone heard of medication?