The muscular man in the red loincloth twirled his five-foot-long cane stave in the air and performed a ritualistic dance. He then brought the stave down hard against the buttocks of a man bound to a stock set atop a gaily decorated platform in a large field filled with thousands of people.

"Allah [God]," gasped the man being lashed, his voice amplified to the crowd of more than 10,000 by a microphone set in front of his face.

He was one of 26 men to be lashed today in the first public beatings in this Parkistani city in a year.

The lashings were announced in this morning's papers and were held in the afternoon, when most government workers had a half-day holiday.

The two men who were doing th lashing -- one in a red loincloth, the other in a brown one -- were posturing on the platform much as a professional wrestler does before a match. They are both convicted murderers, serving life sentences but given special food to build them up for their job as lashers.

The crowd was kept about 100 feet away and it took police charges to keep them from pressing closer. Some people were on top of the hospital roof, while other climbed trees for a better look.

Asked why everyone had come, one man said, "for fun's sake, and that's a shame. In Pakistan everybody's guilty. They are just being punished because they were caught."

The men lashed today were caught in prostitution raids on two hotels and convicted last night by summary martial law courts. Women were also convicted, but they have not yet been sentenced.

Although lashings are common punishment here, public beatings were resumed last week for the first time in a year. The move came after the president, Gen. Mohammed Zia ulHag, announced Oct. 16 that the Army was tightening its martial law grip on the country. He also called off elections, disbanded political parties, banned political activities and placed the press under censorship.

Within days of Zia's speech there were front page stories in newspapers here detailing public lashings of black marketeers and hoarders throughout the country -- one way of signaling that the Army means business.

The first two prisoners brought on the platform today were deemed too old to be lashed since there were more than 45 years old. Instead a police sergeant paintd their faces black -- "the ultimate insult in our culture," said one onlooker.

Each of the prisoners was identified by a public address announcer as he was brought to the platform in shackless, examined by a doctor and stripped down to a pair of white shorts. A policeman painted a red stripe across the buttocks as the target. The prisoners' feet were bound by wood stocks, their hands by shackles as they were leaned against a triangular easel with a pad for their stomach. The prisoners were tied to that pad. Another pad was placed as protection across their kidneys.

Then the two lashers, each taking their turn, began their macabre dance which ended with the stave crashing across the buttocks of each bound prisoner.

In all, 21 men received 15 lashes and five received five lashes today.

At one point, the police scolded one of the lashers for not hitting hard enough. Later he was made to sit out for 20 minutes for not using his cane with full force.

One prisoner actd cowardly, cried out as he was being lashed and had to be carried out on a stretcher. The crowd shouted "bastard" at him.