Bonalu Jathara – started in Telangana in the year 1813
A website on Hyderabad without mention of the world famous Bonalu Jathara Festival, would be incomplete. And while at it, why even just a mention, why not an account of what is not just a mere festival to the people of Telangana, but a custom in itself, a celebration in which Telanganites involve themselves with all their zeal and look forward to it, all year. Bonalu is a unique Telangana Festival celebrated only in Telangana.
The Bonalu Jathara festival traces its origins back to 1813, when the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad suffered from the epidemic of Plague. Thousands of lives were claimed, and the Plague was catching on dangerously with the masses. Then originated the belief that the Plague was a curse by the Mother Goddess- Mahankali and she was angered at the locals. People started offering their prayers and food (Bhojanalu- Bonalu) to please the goddess so she would rid them off the disease. To this date, Telangana People celebrate this festival expressing their gratitude for the well-being bestowed upon them, with much enthusiasm. Among the festivals of Telangana, Bonalu Jathara Festival is very important in Telangana which is celebrated for the whole month of Ashadam.
The mythological story and belief that revolves around the festival, says that this is the time when Goddess Mahakali comes back to her parental home, in Ashada Maasam or the period from late June to August. Like daughters are much pampered in their parental homes, the festival involves offering food of her choice to Mahankali.
The Mother Goddess- Mahankali arrives at her maternal home, in the form of a copper pot-Ghatam, carried by a priest who is dressed in a traditional dhoti and coloured in turmeric. Devotees throng the streets, in wait of the goddess, to watch her arrive and welcome her. There are men, women, dancers, people dressed as mythological characters, drummers, all much enthusiastic to see the goddess arrive. In the days that follow, women set out from their homes, carrying brass or earthen pots on their heads. These pots also locally known as Bonam, contain cooked rice with milk, jiggery, curd and sugar and at times, onions. They’re decorated with Neel leaved twigs, kumkum(vermillion), kadi(white chalk), haldi (turmeric) and a burning lamp on the top. The procession of these women is often led by dancing men, performers, artistes and drummers. The women, coloured truly in the colours of the festival, are dressed in their best silks and gold jewellery. Joyous and fully festive-spirited, they dance on the way to the temple, with the Bonam on their heads, to the beats of the drummers. It is believed that these dancing women are under the trance of the goddess. It is also believed that while these women carry the food made for MahanKali, they possess the spirit of the goddess herself. Thus, there’s also a practice of washing the feet of the women in such a procession. They say Mahankali is an aggressive spirit, by nature. Hence, there is a need to pacify her; and washing their feet with water does the job. Groups of devotees also offer Thottela which is a small, colourful structure made out of paper and supported by sticks. This is considered to be a mark of respect to the goddess. Also an important part of these processions is the brother of Mahankali- Potharaju. Usually, a well built, bare chested man represents him. He’s covered with vermillion on his forehead and turmeric on his whole body and clothed in a Red dhoti and bells on the ankles. While on the way to the temple, the Thottela takes the lead and dances along, on the path with the tranced ladies following him. Trumpets and drums give the beats to the dance and add to the festive feel.
The festival is celebrated across Hyderabad in all of the 14 temples, part of the Old city.
Spread over a month, each of the Sundays, Bonalu has a special venue. On the first Sunday, the Sri Jagadamba Temple at Golconda Fort draws huge crowds, locally and from outside Hyderabad, who come to witness the opening of the festival. The Ujjain Mahankali Temple in Secunderabad is the home for the second Sunday. On the third Sunday, at Lal Darwaja, in the Matheswari Temple, Bonalu is celebrated with much pomp and show. All of the other temples also carry out the rituals associated with Bonalu. There are a number of rituals associated with Bonalu- Mahaabhishekham, Kalas Sthapana, Dwajarohanam, Mathaji Bhajan, Shakambari Alankara Puja, Laksha Kukumarchana, Laksha Pushparchana, Chandi homam, Thottela Uregimpu, Shanthi Kalyanam, Pothraju Swagatham, Rangam and Mahankali Jathara.
Bonalu is spread out on a number of days (usually a month), and its end symbolizes the goddess going back from her maternal home. It takes form by immersion of the Ghatam, the copper pot that symbolizes the goddess and is brought in, on the first day of the festival, into water. The immersion is also witnessed by large crowds who come to bid farewell to the mother goddess, who’d come in the form of a daughter, only to see her again, next year. Usually the goddess is carried on elephants, flanked by horses for immersion. It is followed by Rangam, which occurs on the second day of the festival. Women, who have been possessed by the mother goddess, get together and predict about the future.
The festival Bonalu Jathara is not just a festival for the religious that they simply observe in fear of the goddess and to keep on tradition. The people of Telangana have extreme faith in the goddess MahanKali and the spirit with which they celebrate this festival, depicts the faith.
The story of Mahankali coming to her parental home does not just seem a mythological one, meant for scriptures. Seeing people come alive on the streets, dancing with not a care in the world, preparing the most delicious of Bonams that they can, welcoming the goddess so warmly- It actually does seem like a daughter has come back to the home of her father. People dress up in their best; adorn the streets of cities with Neem leaves, preparations for the festival start much beforehand. In fact, the festival is not just limited to Hindu believers. Such was the impact of Bonalu, that the festival attained its pinnacle during the reign of the Nizams- Islamic rulers of Hyderabad, who themselves took part in it!
Bonalu Jathara Starts with Golconda Bonalu Jathara to Ujjaini Mahankali Temple, Balkampet Yellamma Temple and ends with Akkanna Madanna Bonala Jathara.
While in Hyderabad and Secunderabad, during the period of Ashadam (Late June to August), we won’t tell you to not miss Bonalu. And the reason is self explanatory.
While in Hyderabad city in this period, you just cannot miss Bonalu Jathara!