Madras, India, Aug. 22--(AP) In a bizarre 400-year-old traditional ceremony aimed at pleasing two Hindu goddesses, villagers in southern India buried dozens of unconscious children in muddy holes for a minute before digging them up, witnesses and media reports said Thursday.

All the children lived. The ceremony is conducted every five to seven years depending on the position of the stars. It is aimed at pleasing the Hindu goddesses Muthukuzhi Mariamman and Kaliamman.

The ritual Wednesday in Perayur Village, about 550 kilometers (340 miles) south of Tamil Nadu's state capital, Madras, was first reported by The Indian Express newspaper and recorded on video that has since been broadcast by Indian and foreign television stations.

In the ceremony - that is called Kuzhimatru Thiruvizha, or festival of graves, in Tamil language - religious gurus smear ash on the foreheads of children before sprinkling water mixed with turmeric powder onto them. This made the children fall unconscious, witnesses said. As crowds watched, dozens of workmen dug pits into which the children were placed and then covered in mud. A minute later they were dug out.

The ceremony was witnessed by Tamil Nadu's Minister for Housing C. Dorairaj. One of his relatives, who also witnessed the event, said 20 children were buried. The Indian Express said 105 children took part. "None of the children seemed to have any problem after being exhumed," said the relative. "It is a matter of faith, like walking on fire or body piercing."

The newspaper quoted Dorairaj as defending his attendance at the ceremony. "I witnessed the festival at the invitation of the community which organized it," he said. "I have nothing more to say on the issue."

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