Telangana Bonalu Festival Celebration during Ashada Masam happens annually in Hyderabad and Secunderabad. This Hindu Festival is celebrated around July/August. In the lunar calendar, known as 'Aashada Masam'.
Goddess Mahakali is worshipped in the twin cities in grand fervour. Bonalu festival is also celebrated in other parts of the state.
Bonalu Festival is mainly celebrated for fulfillment of vows. Goddess Mahakali is worshipped in the form of 'Yellamma' . During the first and last day of the festival.
Origin of Telangana Bonalu Festival in Hyderabad
The origin of this festival has been traced back to the year 1813. It is said during that time a plague break out in the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad. I read an article that a military battalion was deployed to Ujjain. The then military forces prayed to the Mother goddess in the Mahakali temple in Ujjain. They prayed to help save their families back home. As a token of keeping the promise made, they returned to install an idol in the city. To this day, the tradition has been continued in the Mahakali temple in Secunderabad. One Sunday of 'Ashada masam' (masam is a month in Telugu) celebration of 'bonalu' festival is dedicated to Ujjain Mahakali Temple.
Bonalu festival involves the worship of Mother Goddess in regional forms like Maisamma, Pochamma, Yellamma, Peddhamma, Dokkalamma, Ankalamma, Poleramma, Maremma, Nookalamma.
The Ritual of Telangana Bonalu Festival
The word Bonam is derived from the word Bhojanam in Sanskrit. It also means a meal, in Telugu. Women carry an earthen pot on their head. We saw the earthen pot smeared with turmeric, kumkum and adorned with leaves. This pot is heavy because of placing the cooked rice, milk and jaggery in it. It's a beautiful sight to behold. They make this offering to the Goddess across the temples. Some even carry bangles, sari and favourite items as offerings.
Highlights of Telangana Bonalu festival
Apart from offering the 'Bonam' feast, the other highlights of this Telangana festival are Potharaju, Ghatam, Rangam and Thottela.
We spotted Poturaju, potbellied, robust and glaring at people around. Donning colourful paint and armed with a whip. He portrayed a fierce demeanour. We cannot help staring at these figures. We reached the old city late afternoon. My friends arranged that we visit the place where the artists, dancers and troupe were getting ready. Not everyday we get to witness how they don the paint and colours.
A male centre of attraction and also synonymous with the Telangana Bonalu festival. He is considered as the brother of the Hindu Goddess Mahakali taking on the role of protecting women carrying bonam. Easy to identify is the potharaj. Anointed with turmeric on his body and vermilion on his forehead. He definitely was the figure that no one could help look away. Potharaju is synonymous with Bonalu festivities and a highlight of this festival. We saw them wind their way leading the group of women carrying pots on their heads.
It is a copper pot, carried by the temple priest. This decorated copper pot is treated as a form of the Mother Goddess. The Ghatam is taken in a procession from the first day and till the last day of the festival when it is immersed in water. The Ghatam procession was vibrant, loud and colourful. People line up to witness the spectacle which is an annual affair across the twin cities. Traffic restrictions are applied and liquor shops are shut during this period.
Rangam (or Performing the Oracle):
It's held the next morning of the festival. A practice from the past generations of women who foretell the year ahead, leading to fortune telling. It's mostly about the prediction related to yield of crops, natural phenomena and so on. They have been basically providing insights for the year ahead and to prepare people for it. Invoking Mother Goddess and beginning yet another year with gratitude is the crux of the matter.
It's a major part of the Bonalu festival. Thottela is a decorated art piece which is tied to the Neem tree or to the Temple Goddess. It is a way of expressing gratitude and wishes to the Mother Goddess. We saw the street sides filled with these artefacts which are made of bamboo sticks and various colorful decorated papers wrapped around it. Also, read
I had the opportunity of visiting the area around the Mahakali Temple in Secunderabad one early morning during the Bonalu Festival and early evening at the Laldarwaza temple in the Old city. Two different experiences yet culturally rich and impressive. I was taken by the various hues and sizes of the 'Thottelas' around the marketplace in Secunderabad. It is not everyday that you see the people leading the procession get ready. We witnessed the makeup artists working on them and also had a sneak peek of the dancers and Potharaju too.
Telangana Bonalu Festival definitely is a unique festival of this region and I would surely recommend people visit Telangana during the weekends of Ashada Masam to partake in this celebration.