The Bonalu festivities have commenced recently in Hyderabad. The month-long festival in the twin-cities, Hyderabad and Secunderabad, is celebrated traditionally during Ashada Masam which falls in July/August. Considered as the state festival, it reflects Telangana’s rich heritage and culture with a pinch of euphoria.
Bonalu involves worship of Goddess Mahakali in her various forms such Pochamma, Yellamma, Mysamma, Peddhamma, Ankalamma, Dokkalamma, Poleramma, Nookalamma, and Maremma.
The celebrations began at the historic Golconda Fort followed by Ujjaini Mahakali Temple in Secunderabad and then all over the city. Led by Pothraju, (brother of the goddess), a grand procession from Lal Darwaja in the old city was taken out with a large number of devotees with traditional Thottellu, artistes in multiple attires dancing to the tunes of resounding drum beats and women clad in colorful attire marked the start of the festive occasion.
On the first and last day of the festival, special poojas are held for Yellamma, which is considered a thanksgiving to the Goddess for the fulfillment of vows.
Bonalu comes from the word - Bhojanalu which means food/feast in the Telugu language. Bonam is offered to pacify Gods for protecting families of the devotees from diseases, droughts, poverty, and other natural calamities. Women prepare rice which is cooked along with milk and Jaggery in a new earthen pot, donned with neem leaves, vermillion and turmeric. The pots symbolize earth while the substances inside such as water, lamp (fire) denote the five elements.
Women carry these pots and offer Kumkum, Saree, and Bangles to the Goddess at temples.
The origin of Bonalu traces back to 1813 when the festivities are believed to have begun in Secunderabad after a deadly plague broke out in the twin-cities taking thousands of lives.
Prior to this, a military battalion of Hyderabad was deployed in Ujjain and upon coming to know about the epidemic, they prayed to Goddess Mahankali to save the city from plague. The military battalion promised to build a temple in Secunderabad if the plague went away. Soon, the plague was curbed, and in gratitude, they built the temple for Ujjain Mahankali in Secunderabad. Following this, Bonalu became a regular celebration in the twin-cities a thanksgiving to the Goddess Mahankali.
Distinct to Telangana, Bonalu is dedicated to the worship of Shakti in the form of various Grama Devatas. Though celebrated all over Telangana, the celebrations in Hyderabad have a wide recognition.
Interestingly, the two major festivals of Telangana - Bonalu, Bathukamma are both women oriented, emphasizing the prominence of Shakti.
The Bonalu festival kicks-off with celebrations at Jagadamba Mahakali Temple in Golkonda Fort on the first Sunday of Ashadam. The celebrations for the Golkonda Bonalu continue for around two weeks. The next Sunday, Bonalu is observed at Yellama Temple, Balkampet, and Ujjain Mahankali Temple, Secunderabad.
The third Sunday, it is observed at Katte Maisama Pochamma Temple, Chilakalguda.
The main Bonalu festival will be celebrated on August 5. The Mahankali Jathara and procession will be taken out August 6.
While the festival was always celebrated with pomp and gaiety, the publicity or buzz surrounding it today is massive. Ever since the TRS government swept into power on the back of Telangana identity, Bonalu has moved from being just a village festival to being at the center of cultural appropriation. The government even declaring it the state festival along with Bathukamma.
The visual spectacle of Bonalu reveals the colour, the excitement, the energy and the unforgettable feel of the spectacle as it unfolds in the streets of Hyderabad.
Bonalu in today’s time signifies the significance of preserving a cultural legacy and its essence represents the characteristic cultural spirit of the region.
This year, Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao announced to offer Rs One crore worth gold Bonam to Ujjaini Mahankali Temple on July 29, in a bid to strengthen the tradition of Bonalu. The Chief Minister had also sanctioned Rs 15 crore to celebrate the festival in a grand manner.