For over three hundred years, the residents of Pandhurna and Sawargaon, two Indian villages located on the banks of the river Jaam, have been engaging in a bizarre stone-pelting ritual called Gotmar Mela that leaves hundreds critically injured and even dead.
The stone war of Gotmar Mela, as its sometimes referred to, takes place every year, on the second day to “Bhadrapad’ (the new moon day). A tree trunk is fixed in the middle of Jaam River, and a flag tied on top of it. On the day of the bloody event, people from Pandhurna and Sawargaon gather on each of the river banks and arm themselves with stones. The bravest of them run towards the tree and try to climb high enough to grab the flag, while the mob on the other side tries to prevent them from doing so by showering them with large stones. The village who manages to snag the flag is declared winner. The rules of Gotmar Mela are pretty simple, but who ever takes part in it knows full well it might be the last thing they do, as hundreds are critically injured and even killed, each year.
The stone throwing ritual kept alive by the people of Pandhurna and Sawargaon is definitely one of the bloodiest traditions on Earth. The local administration has tried to convince villagers to give up on their violent celebration, and even tried to impose a ban, but they backed down under pressure from both communities. Back in 2001 and 2002, they tried to talk them into using rubber balls instead of stones, but neither of the villages agreed. Every year, after doing their best to stop Gotmar Mela from taking place, the local administration simply leaves the dangerous site of the event and tries to provide swift medical attention to the injured. This Saturday, 329 people were hurt during the stone war, and seven of them are still in critical condition. But, as weird as this may sound, 2012 was a good year, considering in 2008 there were 800 injured and one dead.
According to local legend, the ritual of Gotmar Mela was inspired by the story of Pandhurna’s ruler, who, upon hearing about the beautiful daughter of the King of Sawargaon, crossed the river and abducted the girl. When the villagers of Sawargaon heard the news, they chased the abductor who had by then crossed the river, and started pelting him with stones. Pandhurna’s dwellers also gathered on the river bank and protected their leader by throwing stones at the other side, allowing him to safely reach his palace. To this day, the tradition was kept alive as a bloody stone throwing game known as Gotmar Mela, but also by grooms of each village who try to win brides from the other side.