MYSORE: Sankranti, usually marked with the distribution of Ellu-Bella (til seeds and jaggery) and making gaily decorated cows and bullocks jump over fire, is celebrated with a difference here. The residents of Udbur village in Mysore capture rabbits and foxes, offer prayers to it and take it in a procession before releasing it into the forest.
The villagers believe that looking at a fox or rabbit immediately after Sankranti is a good omen, which may lead to good rains, a bountiful harvest and prosperity. The villagers go in groups to capture the animals as per the directions of village headman and community leaders and keep it inside an enclosure at the temple premises.Foxes and rabbits along with local deities Sri Lakshmi Narayanaswamy and Eshwara are taken in a day-long procession to Parvataga Mala (Bannimantap) on the outskirts of the village, when prayers are offered to the animals accompanied with the bursting of crackers. The villagers offer non-vegetarian dishes to their relatives and friends and watch wrestling competitions that elicit the participation of wrestlers from Udbur and neighbouring places.
However, with allegations that widespread killing of wild animals take place during the ritual, the celebrations have been reduced to a mere formality.
One Lakshman Nayak denying charges of animal sacrifice, chastises animal lovers such as Maneka Gandhi and others for coming in the way of tradition.
“The villagers have decided to not hunt foxes in view of the government and strong criticism against it from various quarters,” he added.Another villager, Chikkasiddanayaka, disclosed that a few villagers leave by morning on Sankranti and return by noon with a rabbit. He added that the rabbit will be garlanded and kept in a small cage and later taken in a procession and later released into nearby fields in the presence of cops. “If they don’t return with a rabbit, we will start off the procession,” he said.
Meanwhile, trustee of the temple M Veerappa said that they have given up hunting fox as per the government’s directions. He said that the incident generated an intense debate and encouraged them to ban animal sacrifice a few years ago.