A 30-year-old priest sustained burn injuries during a ‘ritual’ to cure his polio-related affliction at a temple in Odisha’s Kandhamal district. A case was registered in the matter on Friday.
According to sources, priest Bhabani Shankar Nanda of Baliguda subdivision has been performing the ‘ritual’ every week for the past one month. During the procedure, he used to hang himself head down over a ‘homa kunda’ (sacred fire receptacle) with ropes at a Mahamayi goddess temple to cure his walking disability. Another priest would swing Nanda as he begged for a cure from the deity while holding a trident in his hand. Locals claimed that precautions were taken to ensure Nanda was hung high enough to receive the ‘sacred’ and ‘healing’ fumes and yet not be scorched.
Last week, the ‘ritual’ went wrong when the rope holding Nanda gave away and he fell on the fire. He suffered nearly 20 per cent burn injuries, sources said. “I fell as the knots became undone. I had tied myself (to the ceiling),” Nanda said. The police have booked Nanda and a couple of priests under Section 324 of the IPC, inspector Ramakanta Patra said. To this charge, the police have added Section 34.
Mukta Nayak, president of the temple which hosted Nanda’s ‘rituals’, said: “As soon as he fell, we picked him up.” Superstitious rituals are part of a belief system in the state’s rural areas, such as Keonjhar, Rayagada, Gajapati, Koraput and Mayurbhanj. According to 2016 NCRB data, Odisha accounted for 24 deaths due to witchcraft — the second highest in the country after Jharkhand (27).