The devotee scales the high walls of the religious shrine on a rope, a bucket dangling off his back. Once he is at the top (typically about 30ft high), he miraculously retrieves a baby from the bucket, handing it over to a bunch of men standing on the balcony. One of these men takes hold of the baby’s hands and feet, holding the child as though it were a basket. He swings the kid back and forth in the air, exclaiming a chant in the praise of the Lord. And then, shockingly, the baby is dropped.
Baby dropping could be India’s most bizarre ritual. Screaming, wailing babies are dropped from several meters into the air, and there are a group of 14 to 15 men standing right below, holding a blanket that breaks the baby’s fall. Just as it bounces on the blanket once, it is caught by one of the men and handed over to the mother. Understandably, it takes several minutes before the baby recovers from the shock.
The local name of this baby throwing ritual remains unknown, but it has apparently been in practice for the past 700 years by Hindu and Muslim Indians alike in the states of Karnataka and Maharashtra. The ritual happens only once per year, and is believed to bring good luck to the baby, keeping it safe and healthy. It also ensures prosperity for the entire family. The ritual is generally meant for babies less than 2 years of age, and is so absurd that it seems to blatantly defy all reason and logic. However, locals are pretty staunch in their belief and in spite of all the hue and cry raised by human rights activists, and even a ban on the ritual in 2011, this year’s ceremonies were carried out as usual. The most recent baby dropping event was held, last week, at the Digameshwara temple in Nagrala village, Karnataka.
Lov Verma, from the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, says he is utterly shocked by this controversial tradition. “It’s not simply the government’s job. We need to educate all those who take part in this barbaric practice – the temple priests and the community.” However, participants remain undeterred. According to one temple-goer, “Our religious beliefs pull many of us to this ceremony every year.” In fact, temple authorities believe that, “by doing this, kids will be healthy, strong and live longer.”
I watched footage from a 2009 baby dropping ceremony. The callous manner in which the babies are handled, I must say, is truly horrifying. Although no child has been harmed so far, the practice seems extremely unsafe, since mistakes can happen at any moment.