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Friday, 26 July, 2002, 15:23 GMT 16:23 UK
Indians in parched states pray for rain
Punjabi farmer examines parched field
Many Indian farmers are looking for divine intervention

As India braces for what could be its worst drought in a decade, villagers across the country are turning to the rain gods in a desperate attempt to avert disaster.

Frog
Frogs are widely used in the rain-seeking rituals

The government says that more than 300 districts are now experiencing a serious shortage of rainfall.

Monsoon rains are vital for Indian agriculture, which is a major source of employment in the country, and many are now looking for divine intervention.

Rituals devoted to rain gods vary from state to state depending upon local customs and traditions.

Cynics suggest that the rituals merely distract ordinary people from hardship, but cultural experts say the practices are the last resort for those who believe there is nowhere else to turn for help.

Naked ploughing

Reports say women in some villages in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh have begun ploughing the fields naked at night in a bid to appease the rain gods.

Women at a dry water well in Rajasthan
Many seem to believe humans can no longer help

The practice derives from an ancient legend in which a king and his wife ploughed in the nude so that the gods would end a long drought.

In eastern Orissa state, farmers have been holding so-called frog dance rituals, known locally as Bengei Nani Nacha.

Amid much fanfare, villagers catch a frog and put it inside a pitcher partly filled with water which is carried by two people at the head of a procession.

Orissa's agricultural production commissioner, Sanjeev Hota, told the BBC that more than 25 districts in the state are affected by lack of rains.

In other states, villages have been holding ceremonies to marry two toads, which are then released from a single bucket into the local pond.

Ancient tradition

A professor of history at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, Professor Harbans Mukhia, told the BBC that people resort to such practices only when human control mechanisms fail.

"Even imparting education to villagers will not recede the practice of these rituals because they are too well imbibed as a tradition," he said.

Villagers in the southern Indian state of Karnataka, where 8,000 villages are short of water, have held Yagna fire ceremonies.

In another ritual in Haveri district in the state last week, frogs were made to hop on to donkeys.

Special prayer sessions are also being organised in the states of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan.

People affected by drought in the Telengana region in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh have held processions singing songs in praise of the rain gods.

In the western states of Rajasthan, a strike was observed in Begu town recently to provide an opportunity for the local people to spend their day in prayer.

See also:

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