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Last Updated: Friday, 6 June, 2003, 08:25 GMT 09:25 UK
Bear answers India water prayers
By Omer Farooq
BBC correspondent in Hyderabad

Hindu priests offer rain prayers in Andhra Pradesh
Locals have been praying for rain
Parched villagers suffering in a deadly heat wave in India's Andhra Pradesh state believe their prayers have unearthed a miraculous source of scarce water.

They have taken to tracking a wild bear, whose footprints lead to underground springs he has sniffed out in the forest.

Once the bear has dug a hole, thirsty locals help themselves to the water - but only when he has gone.

India is reeling from a month of temperatures as high as 50C, in which more than 1,300 people are reported to have died.

Much to their delight and surprise, a bear had dug a pit where water was struck
Forest officer K Venkaiah

Most of the fatalities have occurred in Andhra Pradesh, where there has been a prolonged drought too.

People are desperate for monsoon rains to arrive, to replenish a water table now several hundred feet underground.

'Delight'

When villagers in Nellore district noticed the bear's footprints, they followed - and found water gushing into the air.

"Much to their delight and surprise, a bear had dug a pit where water was struck at a mere three feet," forest officer K Venkaiah told the BBC.

He said the bear had found water at three other places in the forest.

"Now we are tracing the bear's footprints and reaching the precise points where underground springs are present."

A baffled Mr Venkaiah said he had no idea how the bear knew where the water was.

But his help had come in the nick of time and was being treated as a miracle.

Marriage of frogs

Villagers feel so indebted to the bear that they are now looking after animals they normally hunt who need help in the heat.

"They are providing water and food to rabbits and deer, despite their own difficult condition," Mr Venkaiah said.

"We appealed to them not to harm these animals and I am very happy that the people have responded with compassion and kindness."

Meanwhile, other animals have been invoked in rain prayers.

In Telengana district in Andhra Pradesh, thirsty locals have been enacting the marriage of frogs to help end the dry spell.

And in Davangere district in Karnataka state, people have been performing marriages of donkeys and dolls.

Such acts seem bizarre but are a common ritual conducted in villages to invoke the rain gods.




SEE ALSO:
India's heat wave
05 Jun 03  |  Photo Gallery
Hope for end to India heat
05 Jun 03  |  South Asia
Tempers rise in Indian heat wave
04 Jun 03  |  South Asia
Drive to link Indian rivers
23 May 03  |  South Asia
World's wettest area dries up
28 Apr 03  |  South Asia
The health risks of a heat wave
07 Jul 00  |  Health


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