BHOPAL (AFP) - Indian villagers went on the rampage Friday as police tried to enforce a ban on a bizarre annual stone-pelting ritual which often leaves people dead or injured, a local official said. Officers trying to uphold the ban in two villages in an impoverished central region of the country were subjected to a hail of stones themselves and were forced to withdraw, Nikunj Srivastava, a district civil servant, told AFP. The angry mob then got their way and the ritual went ahead as usual, causing at least two serious injuries. As soon as the festival started and villagers from both sides came to know that they would not be allowed to hurl stones at each other, they started pelting stones on the cops and their vehicles, Srivastava told AFP by telephone. Two police officers were injured and several police vehicles were damaged, he added. Our motive was not to suppress people going to participate in the festival but to reform them and educate them, said Srivastava. We have succeeded in the sense that the use of liquor by the participants was almost negligible and they did not use slings to pelt stones or the injuries would have been on a larger scale, Srivastava added. The annual Gotmar festival involves teams from the villages of Saargaon and Pandhurhna competing to capture a tree placed in a riverbed running between the two settlements. Crowds pelt the participants with rocks and pebbles as they attempt to reach the target. The origin of the custom is unclear, but many locals in Madhya Pradesh state believe it developed from a tale of two young lovers who lived on either side of the river and wanted to elope together. As they tried to escape, residents of the two villages started throwing stones at each other and killed the couple. The festival is held in their memory, according to the folklore. In last years clash, press reports said one person died and more than 400 were injured. Attempts to replace the stones with rubber balls in 2001 and 2002 failed when villagers refused to use them. Ramesh Baghel, a local eyewitness who spoke to AFP by telephone, said the police were forced to withdraw because of the anger provoked by the ban. The administrative officials including the police had to rush back as soon as the frenzied mob pelted stones at them injuring at least half a dozen cops, he said. Who are they to interfere in our traditional rituals? he added.