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GOOD GOURD - Followers Worship Pumpkin

A greengrocer has become the head of a bizarre religious cult in eastern India after declaring a giant pumpkin to be a reincarnation of the Hindu god Shiva.

Umesh Kumar, 59, discovered the huge oval squash in a routine delivery of stock to his shop in Dundibagh, Bihar state.

"As soon as I saw it, I was struck immediately by the intuition that I was looking at Lord Shiva," he said.

"I couldn't shake off the feeling so I started to worship it, offering garlands and sweets.

"Gradually some of my customers began to take notice and join me. Then everyone seemed to be interested.

"Now hundreds of people come to worship with me," he added.

Experts say the pumpkin's shape represents a 'shiva linga', an egg-shaped symbol said to shown the Shiva's power of regeneration.

But Umesh has turned down offers of up to 500 GBP to sell the garlanded gourd.

"How could I sell my god?" he said.

Now local priests have ruled that worshipers can follow the pumpkin until a holy festival on Sunday when it will blessed and cut into pieces for followers to eat.

"It will be a wrench to see it go but if my god wants to go that way, we must do it," said Umesh.

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