Around 2.5 to 3 lakh people from various parts of the country descended on the Exhibition Grounds at Nampally in Hyderabad last weekend for a fishy cure for pulmonary ailments.
Braving the scorching sun, they waited patiently, holding transparent water-filled bags in which murrels swam. Earlier, they had purchased the fingerlings from the Telangana Fisheries Department stall at the ground for ₹40 apiece.
Clad in yellow, members of the fifth generation of the Bathini Goud family led the 24-hour event. They had anticipated the huge turnout since the event, a 178-year-old tradition, was held after a three-year, Covid-enforced hiatus.
“We were expecting a large number of people this time and prepared the prasadam for nearly 5-6 lakh people,” Bathini Amarnath Goud told South First.
The prasadam he mentioned was a herbal paste, which was stuffed into the mouth of the fish and shoved down the throat of the patients.
The local police said the crowd this time numbered between 2.5 and 3 lakh.
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What is fish ‘prasadam’?
It is believed by the devout that the prasadam has medicinal properties that could cure ailments such as asthma and bronchitis.
The Bathini Goud family claimed that when the fish slides down, it clears the throat and provides relief to the patient.
Parents were seen encouraging their children, several of them under 10, to swallow the offering. Some of them threw up the prasadam on their first attempt.
“We give three types of prasadams: Machli (fish stuffed with yellow paste), kaarti (similar to fish prasadam, but with fewer ingredients), and bellam (jaggery),” Amarnath explained.
“People are also given a 45-day diet plan comprising 28 items. Tablets are also given, two doses of which are to be consumed every 15th day,” Amarnath said about the process.
He claimed that the patients should consume the fish prasadam for three-four consecutive for curing asthma. “If they take a break, they need to start afresh,” he warned.
The recipe of the yellow herbal paste is a closely guarded secret.
The legend of fish prasadam
Amarnath said his great-grandfather Bathini Veeranna Goud started the tradition.
“A guruji gave him the formula to make the herbal paste, but only after making him take an oath that he would provide it free of cost,” he recalled the legend.
“The practice started in 1845 for the welfare of the people. It gained popularity and Veeranna Goud’s son Bathini Shankarya Goud and then my father Bathini Harinath Goud continued it,” Amarnath claimed.
The members of the present generation of the Bathini Goud family have taken up other jobs or are having their business firms.
“I was a chef in Australia for nearly a decade before returning and setting up an eatery at the Luna Drive-In Food Court in Hyderabad. My brother Anil is still in Australia,” Amarnath said.
The Bathini Goud family organises the event on the auspicious occasion of the 24-hour Mrigasira Karthi nakshatra, which began at 8 am on 9 June this year.
“The news of the event is spread through word of mouth. We don’t advertise it,” he further said.
He pointed out that he and his cousins (Alka Nanda and Bathini Santosh Goud) never faced respiratory issues. “Our forefathers and mothers used to take the prasadam first before giving it to others,” Amarnath reasoned why they don’t get pulmonary ailments.
The prasadam was distributed at their ancestral home in Old City’s Doodhbowli and their residence in Secunderabad’s Kavadiguda till 12 June.
In 1997, the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh government had asked the family to shift the venue from the congested bylanes of their ancestral house.
The event was shifted to a ground at Katedhan Sports Complex on the outskirts of Hyderabad. However, the authorities failed to control the crowd, which once led to a stampede, killing one person and injuring several others.
A contentious belief
Bathini Harinath Goud noted that while allopathic medicine provides a temporary cure, the fish “medicine” ensured a cure.
However, medical practitioners, activists, and other experts have repeatedly questioned the fish prasadam.
In 2013, the High Court of Andhra Pradesh suspended a Lokayukta order and allowed the conduct of the event. However, it ruled that the wonder drug cannot be considered as a medicine. Hence, it is termed fish prasadam.
The huge turnout at Exhibition Grounds this year reflected the firm belief people have in the prasadam.
“I had several problems while breathing and could not engage in physical activities, probably because my mother, too, has respiratory issues. She took the fish prasadam for eight years and now does not need an inhaler. Her breathing issues have been completely cured,” Seema Khan from Delhi told South First.
However, Khan has to start having the prasadam afresh since Covid disrupted the course.
“Since I couldn’t complete the course, I am facing minor breathing issues now. I returned this time for a complete cure. I will be visiting Hyderabad in the coming years as well,” Khan asserted.
Expressing happiness over the resumption of the event, Mendem Balakrishna from Vanasthalipuram in Hyderabad wanted the government to arrange better facilities at the venue.
“It would be better if the government arranged fans. There are a lot of elderly people here,” he told South First.
The Telangana Fisheries Department arranged murrels for the event. Telangana Animal Husbandry Minister Talasani Srinivas Yadav kicked off the event on 9 June.