More than 100 children have been buried alive in India as part of a 400-year-old ritual to appease two female deities.
They were buried for about a minute during a ceremony known as Kuzhi Maatru Thiruvizhaa, which translates as festival of pits.
The ritual is practiced by a small group of Hindus in Tamil Nadu. It is observed every five to seven years, in the belief that villagers' wishes will be granted by goddesses Muthukuzhi Mariamman and Kaliamman.
Only prepubescent females are allowed to take part but there is no age restriction on males.
The participants are supposedly rendered "unconscious" by relatives who sprinkle ash on their heads and spray turmeric water on their faces before carrying them to a burial ground in front of a temple.
According to tradition, if the child fails to fall unconscious the burial is deemed cancelled and the family fined the equivalent of £13.47.
It is reported gravediggers ensure the children are too ''exhausted'' to try and wriggle out of the pit at the time they are being buried. The children, wrapped in yellow cloth, are lowered into makeshift graves, which are fully covered, and pulled out only after priests say a minute has passed.
C.Durairaj, Tamil Nadu's minister for Housing and Urban Development, who was guest of honour at the ritual in Perayur, told The Indian Express: "I went there and witnessed the festival on the invitation of the community which organised it. I've nothing more to say."
A former president of the Perayur Council, known only as Kaliraj, claimed there had been no untoward incident at the festival so far.
There have been protests against the ritual but politicians are apparently loath to intervene. Police do not see it necessary to interfere in the absence of complaints from the general public.
Thursday 22nd August 2002
Sacred dog leaves intensive care with fanfare
A dog worshipped as the reincarnation of a Hindu saint has left an Indian animal hospital after recovering from kidney problems.
Sai, a seven-year-old white Spitz, is believed to be Shirdi Saibaba, a saint who lived in the western state of Maharashtra around 100 years ago.
A special exit was arranged for the dog as he was discharged from the intensive care unit of an animal hospital in Bombay.
Devotees distributed biscuits and sweets to the other animals, draped a shawl around Sai and applied a vermilion dot to his forehead.
Sai lives at an ashram south of Bombay, where he sits on a throne to worshipped by the public twice a day. He travels in a limousine, lives in air-conditioned quarters, eats out of special cut class crockery and has four attendants.
Locals are known to carry the animal through town on Mondays and Thursdays.
Beliefs about the dog being a reincarnation of the saint are reportedly partly due to his perfect mannerisms and temperament and his apparent enjoyment of prayer sessions.
Neeta Parvate, a spokesman for the BSPA hospital, told Mumbai Newsline: "He took treatment in a dignified manner. It was as if he knew someone was taking care of him. Looking after Sai was a different experience."
Swami Narayan, the spiritual guru who owns the dog, said: "Sai's journey in this life needs a deeper understanding of the complexities of existence."
Tuesday 6th August 2002
Man sucks blood of 207 goats and wants more
A man has sucked the blood of 207 goats sacrificed at a Hindu temple.
Sisir Das, a practitioner of Hindu occult rituals, drank the goats' blood at the Kali temple in Bengal's Midnapore district over the past four days.
The United News of India says blood sucking runs in the sorcerer's family and that his thirst for blood "remains insatiable"
Mr Das told the paper that his father was directed by the goddess Kali to drink the blood of sacrificed animals.
He added; "But the number of sacrifices then was 40 in four days. I made a record by sucking the blood of 207 goats this year.
"I don't know what happens to me all these four days. I feel the goddess taking possession of my body."
Thousands of people have arrived from neighbouring areas to witness Mr Das drink the goats' blood.
Ramchandra Besra, a visitor from Ranchi, said: "It is a blood-curdling sight no doubt. But still we come here every year to get the blessings of the goddess."
Saturday 9th November 2002
Indian villagers marry frogs hoping for rain
Indian villagers have married a pair of frogs in the hope the ceremony will bring them rain.
They believe frogs are messengers from Indra, the rain god.
Villagers in Raipur divided into groups representing bride and groom and followed Hindu tradition by applying Turmeric paste to the bride frog.
Nandi Ghosh Panda, who performed the marriage, said: "They will take our message that we are suffering because of the drought and it will surely rain".
The Times of India said: "This frog marriage was the height of superstitious belief."
Local reporter Shankar Aggarwal said: "It is believed the frog is a Meghdoot (representative of Lord Indra).
Since it mostly lives in water, it is said, the frog has direct contact with the rain gods and can make an appeal for rains."
Monday 29th July 2002
Rain answers naked women ploughing over late monsoon
Women who ploughed naked, dancing eunuchs and frog collectors have had their prayers answered by the start of monsoon in parched parts of northern India.
The rains were late in many areas, prompting fears of deep drought as people turned to age-old rituals and superstitions, as well as mainstream religious ceremonies, to appease the Hindu rain god Indra.
Women in several districts in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh ploughed their fields in the nude at night.
In Bhopal, where delayed monsoon has severely affected the city's water supply system, eunuchs sung and danced on the parched Upper Lake at the request of a local political leader.
In the Malwa region, people caught frogs and laid them together on the ground to make them utter loudly the sound which is believed to bring rain.
In some areas superstitions received the support of the establishment, but in others officials described it as panic.
R S Gupta, a senior government official in Uttar Pradesh, said: "What we are witnessing is a panic reaction to a delayed monsoon. The possibility of a drought is beginning to look very real and people are desperate enough to do anything to prevent it from happening."
At Koraiah village in Uttar Pradesh, where women stripped naked in the fields, Phoolwati Bisaria, a farmhand's wife, said: "We will do everything we can to make god have mercy on us. He is angry with us because we were arrogant. Tilling the field without clothes is an act of penance. It is intended to show our humility."
The practice derives inspiration from an ancient legend in which a king and his wife ploughed fields in the nude to force the rain god to bestow water and end a long drought.
Thursday 18th July 2002
20,000 children married off despite Indian law
Twenty thousand young children have been married off during a Hindu festival in northern India.
The mass weddings in the states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh come despite a government ban on the practice.
They were part of the Akha Teej festival.
Though child marriages have long been held illegal in India, a large number of minors end up tied in matrimony by their parents for religious and social reasons each year.
Police authorities claim they are still in the process of compiling reports of the mass marriages.
A police spokesman said: "If such marriages have taken place it is because of lack of co-operation from the public. When people don't come forward to lodge a formal complaint there is precious little we can do to stop such marriages."
Subash Chandra Mahapatra, a spokesman for Forum for Fact-Finding Documentation and Advocacy, a Raipur-based NGO, told Jagriti newspaper: "We have videotapes of the mass marriages to prove that the married couples were underaged.
"Some of them were barely out of the cradle and were being carried by their parents. The government's proclaimed commitment to eradicating this social evil is only a sham."
Udaybhan Singh, who married off his two-year old daughter Maya, said: "Such marriages have been going on for thousands of years and are a part of our culture. All this talk of social evil is pure nonsense.
"The government is only trying to stop parents from fulfilling their responsibility very early in life. As a father I feel very relieved."
Friday 17th May 2002
Indian villagers marry off two donkeys
Drought-hit villagers in southern India have held a ceremonial wedding for two donkeys to appease the Hindu god of rain.
Dressed up like a bride and groom, the donkeys were escorted to a temple in the village in Tamil Nadu state.
A priest then chanted prayers and led the donkeys in a ritual ceremony to propitiate the rain god, Varuna.
The animals were then led in a procession that ended with a wedding feast - for the donkeys and residents in the village of Sakkayanayakanur.
The donkey wedding is the second to be held in the small Indian village.
Like much of the country, it has endured months of drought, aggravated by a heat wave that has claimed hundreds of lives.
Temperatures in some areas have soared as high as 48C (118.4F).
The seasonal monsoons, which feed the agricultural economy of Tamil Nadu, have started late in parts of southern India this year.
Thursday 20th June 2002
Hindu group recommends cow dung against nuclear fallout
A Hindu nationalist organisation is urging people in India to smear themselves in cow dung in the event of nuclear war.
They claim it will protect against radiation burns.
The Uttar Pradesh Cow Protection Commission also recommends daubing buildings in cow dung to protect them against nuclear fallout.
Navyug newspaper reports the commission has come out with the advice as tensions continue with nuclear neighbour Pakistan.
Its normal mission is to prevent the slaughter of the, mother cow, gaumata, which Hindus regard as holy and promotion of cow products like urine and dung for their 'medicinal properties'.
Radheshyam Gupta, a spokesman for the commission, said: "Even if the enemy carries out the threat to bomb us with nukes we don't have to panic. You can fully protect yourselves by covering the roof with cow dung.
"Applying cow dung paste to the body from head to toe will serve as an extra shield."
The commission was set up with the backing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a powerful Hindu nationalist organisation. It supports the Bharata Janata Party (BJP), India's main political party.
Monday 24th June 2002
Woman marries a statue
An Indian woman has married a statue.
Reports say the 21-year-old convinced her father to buy the statue of Krishna when she saw it in a shop in Mathura.
The woman named by Sify News as Premlata from Kadaura village then convinced her parents she wanted to marry it.
Her father Shaligram and mother Laxmidevi objected at first but eventually relented.
Their daughter was married to the statue during a five-hour ceremony which included the lighting of a sacred fire.
Saturday 29th June 2002
Man offers his chopped hand to deity
A man in southern India has chopped off his hand with an axe and offered it to a Hindu deity as penance.
Narasimhaiah says he did it because he had used the hand to beat up his wife who left him three years ago with their three children.
The 38-year-old landowner from Harivesandra in Karnataka claims the goddess came to him in a dream and asked him to do something to prove he was sorry.
He says he thought of giving his hand. Early morning visitors to the Devi temple found him praying in front of the deity with the severed hand.
Priest Rama Jois said: "I don't believe any god would demand such a sacrifice but it is not for me to question one's faith. I hope he finds happiness in life."
Patrike newspaper reports Narasimhaiah he had also offered incense sticks, bananas and milk to the god.
Explaining his action later, Narasimhaiah said: "Recently I had a dream in which the god appeared and told me that he was disappointed with the way I had conducted my life so far. She asked me to do something to show that I was sorry for my actions. That's when I thought of giving up the hand. I am now very happy."
Narasimhaiah said he and his wife had endless rows over his matted hair, which he refused to remove.
Locals are reported to have buried the man's hand and persuaded him to shed his hair, saying it was the initial cause of his unhappiness.
Tuesday 9th July 2002
Woman suspected of beheading 7-year-old in 'Hindu ritual'
Indian police have arrested a woman suspected of beheading a seven-year-old boy in what her neighbours allege was a sacrifice to Hindu gods.
Chinta Devi, 52, has been arrested on a murder charge after police recovered the body of the boy from bushes in a remote village in the state of Jharkhand.
Devi denies the charge, saying while she was taken into custody that police were "cooking up a story."
The body of the boy bore injury marks caused by a sharp weapon, and police found blood stains and a bunch of hair at the spot where they suspect he was sacrificed, a police officer says.
One villager says Devi, the mother of four daughters, may have sacrificed the boy in the hope of having a son of her own.
Neighbours say cattle and chickens disappeared from their backyards before the incident, raising fears that the woman was practising black magic.
Tuesday 5th March 2002
Man cuts off own tongue
An Indian man cut off his own tongue as an offering to a Hindu god.
Ramakanta Martha sliced his tongue off with a dagger before shocked worshippers at a temple in eastern India.
He placed the bloody sacrifice in front of an idol of Lord Shiva in the belief it would cure him of a long standing illness. Martha is in a critical condition in hospital.
Visitors to the temple at Parasiapada said they saw the 23-year-old applying vermilion powder to his forehead before cutting off his tongue.
Sambad Mahapatra, a farmer who witnessed the incident, said: "It was terrible. He had blood all over his face and hands. Everything happened so suddenly that we didn't know how to react."
A police spokesman said Martha would be charged with attempted suicide.
The 23-year old youth was rushed to a hospital and is in a critical condition, reports Pragati newspaper.
Locals said they saw him praying at the temple for an entire day prior to the incident.
"He was mentally ill but we never thought him capable of any kind of violence. It all the more tragic that he had to lose his tongue for a god who would not listen to his prayers," Debabrata Ghosh, a local shop keeper said.
Tuesday 19th March 2002
Bollywood actresses refuse to endorse urine-based cosmetic
Bollywood's leading actresses are refusing to endorse a cosmetic made with cow's urine.
India's Cow Protection Commission is launching a marketing campaign for its Gift of the Gods skin care product.
Manufacturers claim it improves skin texture and reverses ageing. Five top actresses have refused to test it.
The commission is supported by the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) organisation.
Former Miss World and actress Aishwarya Rai says the thought of putting it on her face gives her the shivers.
She told the Navyug newspaper: "It's true the cow is sacred to Hindus but that doesn't alter the fact that urine is a dirty excretion. The very thought of having to apply cow urine on my face gives me the shivers: it's certainly not my idea of beauty care."
It will be priced from 30 pence per bottle. There are also plans to sell it in the form of tablets.
Its promoters claim it can also effectively treat the common cold and cancer, and boost intelligence.
A senior RSS activist said: "If our great sages used urine for instant enlightenment there is no reason why our beauty queens should not use Gift of the Gods. Women's search for a natural beauty therapy has come to an end."