Hyderabad, Hundreds of asthma patients from different parts of the country have started arriving here to take the so-called miraculous fish medicine from a family which claims to have been administering it free of cost for 160 years.
Authorities have made elaborate arrangements for the event, known as 'fish prasadam', which will be held at exhibition grounds here Friday and Saturday.
Police have tightened the security in the area. Metal detectors and closed circuit television cameras have been installed in the light of last month's bomb blast at the historic Mecca Masjid here that had claimed nine lives.
Hyderabad District Collector R.V. Chandravadhan said 24 fish dispensing counters have been opened at the venue. For the first time, advance tokens were issued for the patients. He said over 8,000 advance bookings through tokens were registered till Wednesday.
The distribution of the drug will begin at 9.10 p.m. Friday and continue the next day. The organizers said the administration of the drug would continue till the last patient was served. About 300 members of Bathini Goud family and volunteers will distribute the medicine.
The department of fisheries is making arrangements to supply 100,000 murrel fish for the event. The state's Road Transport Corporation will ply special buses for patients arriving at railway and bus stations. The traffic police have also imposed restrictions on vehicular traffic around the venue.
For the past 160 years, the Goud family has been distributing the medicine free of cost on the Mrigasira Karti day of the Hindu calendar, which heralds the monsoon.
A yellow herbal paste, the ingredients of which have remained a family secret, is first put into a live three centimetre-long murrel fish and is then slipped through the throat of the patient. Dozens of family members of Goud have mastered the art of administering the drug.
If taken for three successive years, the medicine is believed to cure asthma. However, the medicine has lost its popularity in recent years due to a controversy surrounding its ingredients. The turnout has come down over the last five years. Less than 100,000 people had turned up last year.
The Goud family still claims that more than half a million people gather from India and even abroad to take the medicine. With scientists and physicians mounting pressure on the government not to encourage the unscientific practice, and even approaching the court to put an end to the alleged fraud, the Goud family renamed the event as 'prasadam' or holy offering.
"It is our belief that the medicine cures asthma and the patients too believe in its efficacy. That is the reason they have been coming for more than 150 years," said Bathini Harinath Goud.
The family has turned down demands to reveal the ingredients of the herbal paste saying the medicine would lose its efficacy.
The family claims that in 1845, a holy man passed on the formula for the miracle medicine to their great-great-grandfather Veranna Goud, a toddy tapper, on the promise that he would distribute it free of cost.
The family used to administer the medicine at their ancestral house in Doodbowli in the old city till 1998, when communal riots forced it to shift the venue to an open ground in central Hyderabad.
Unlike his predecessor, N. Chandrababu Naidu, who used to inaugurate the event by taking the medicine every year along with his cabinet colleagues, Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy and his ministers stay away from the event to avoid any controversy.
However, the government departments continued to make arrangements to facilitate smooth conduct of the event, drawing criticism from physicians.