They bury children alive, for a few minutes though. They walk on burning embers. They pull chariots with ropes hooked to their flesh. There is no end to bizarre ways of worship in India.
Now we are told that in the Bijapur district in the southern Indian state of Karnataka, the faithful drop children from temple tops, 15 to 20 ft high.
Babies as young as six months are thrown down, but a few feet above the ground a carpet is held firmly by a group of men.
"Nothing happens to the child. They actually receive the blessings of the gods," say gushing parents, even while the dropped babies scream in fright. The ritual is carried out as part of the annual "jatra" ( village festival).
Temple priest Sadashiva Shankrappa Kumbar said 101 babies experienced the "divine fall" last week, reports The Hindu.
Another priest in the region said married couples who went childless for long were usually the ones to take a vow to drop their newborn if ever they were "blessed" with a child. Women from the region who married men from "outside" were also required to drop their babies, the priest said. There were also many who came from outside the state to take part in the ritual, he added.
The priests claimed that there had never been any accident during the babies' free fall.
One baby girl did fall to the ground instead of into the net but nothing happened to her, they claimed. She was hale and hearty and in school now.
Reacting to the practice, Shalini Rajneesh, Secretary, Department of Women and Child Welfare, said she had asked Deputy Commissioner V.B. Patil to curb the practice with immediate effect.
Vasudev Tolbandi, Director of the Ujwala Rural Development Society, a non-governmental organisation working with children, termed the practice unacceptable. But the government was reluctant to intervene as religious practices were a sensitive issue, he noted and stressed that political will was required to end the ritual that posed serious risks to children.
L.H. Bidari, a paediatrician, said the practice was widely prevalent in the region. Babies are bound to suffer shocks when dropped in that manner, he said. Though he had not come across any case where a child had suffered serious and permanent damage, it was advisable to end the practice, the doctor said. People should be educated against such practices, he said.