Bonalu is a famous festival celebrated in the state of Telangana, especially in the twin cities Hyderabad & Secunderabad. The history of the festival dates back to the pre-independence period. Also, before the bifurcation Bonalu was seen in the Telangana region only. The festival ‘Bonalu’ falls in the ‘Ashada’ or ‘Ashadam’ month as per the Hindu Calendar. But the month Ashadam is believed to be an inauspicious month and no good ceremonies or engagements take place during this month. But there is no stopping for Bonalu. Bonalu is not just celebrated during Ashadam but is spread out for an entire month.
The Story and The Legend…
Several stories tell us the reason behind the festival ‘Bonalu’. The sole reason for the festival is to thank the goddesses for showering blessings and fulfilling the vows. The female energy or ‘Shakti’ is worshipped in different forms. Each form of the goddess is believed as the avatar of ‘Shakti’ and she is worshipped with different names as the ‘Grama devata’. The various names of the Shakti are Mahankali, Yellamma, Mysamma and more. The legend says that the goddess ‘Mahankali’ returned to her mother’s house after her marriage during these days. Thus, this month is seen as the most auspicious to thank the goddess Shakti and her forms.
There is a story from history connected to this festival. Somewhere in the 1800s when the plague disease hit the Telangana state just like how the COVID19 hit us today, the people worshipped the goddess Shakti. Part of these people was the military battalion of Hyderabad. The army battalion of Hyderabad then prayed to Mahankali and promised to build a temple for her. It is believed that the goddess did kill the plague disease and it created the belief in the people of Telangana. Since then, the ‘Shakti’ form is celebrated in the Ashadam and this is a festival for Women. Another festival that has huge participation from the women in Telangana is Bathukamma.
What is done on a Bonalu day?
While the story and legend are not easy to prove. These are the few of the beliefs from the many stories and legends. Whatever may be the reason behind the festival, the festival brings a sense of happiness in what is an inauspicious month as per the Hindu calendar.
Coming to the festival day. The word ‘Bonalu’ was never there in history. As per the ancestors, the word Bonalu is derived from the word Bhojanalu. Bhojanalu is a Telugu word that means food. So, the festival ‘Bonalu’ is a celebration by offering food to Goddess.
The offerings are generally given in a traditional pot like structure. The pot will consist of rice, jaggery and curd. Water and fruits are also carried along. The pot that carries all the food is called Bonam. Not just that, the Bonam is held by women on her head. By walk, the women reach the temple and offer the Bonam. Added to it, people also offer Saree, Bangles and other donations. The festival was always colourful and it only got more shades with every decade and year. In the recent past, from the time the TRS govt has come to power, Bonalu has become a pride of Telangana. The government has been supporting the authorities and the temple members in grand celebrations.
The conclusion to festival…
For anyone who’s been living in Hyderabad will know how much the Bonalu festival means to the people. When asked, the people of Telangana would place Bonalu as important as Diwali to the North Indians.
The festival concludes with what is called ‘Rangam’. Rangam is the process where a Woman goes into the trance of Mahankali and she reads out the future of the state and the country. The entire state looks forward to this event. Once this is done, the next thing is the procession of Ghatam. The ‘Ghatam’ is a pot like structure with the goddesses scripted on it. The ghatam procession is carried through the lanes of Hyderabad towards the Nayapul. The ghatam is placed on the top of the Elephant and the process gets over once it reaches the Nayapul.
The festival comes to closure with the Ghatam procession. Thousands of people are part of the procession and most of them take part in this procession with full of excitement and younger boys & girls dance to the tunes of drums during the procession. That’s how the celebrations of ‘Shakti’ are concluded and the festival comes to an end.