BATHUKAMMA of DIVINE TELANGANA ఆగస్ట్ 29, 2006Posted by Telangana Utsav in Articles.
– by G Bharath Bhushan
Bathukamma. The very name brings me into a vibrant mood. This fascination for Bathukamma has cast a spell on me since my childhood.
The cascading effect is such that whenever Bathukamma festivities draw near, I go down memory lane, recalling, with a twinkle in my eyes, those cherished days as a toddler and growing up years, during which I had a lively time. The best phase of my life, I must say.
In my childhood, a festive atmosphere prevailed in our ancestral house in Warangal, on the eve of Bathukamma. And it was not just in our house. Every home I visited in our neighborhood wore a decorative appearance, which in itself was all inviting and exciting a prospect.
There was a distinct grandeur, and to a lesser level still is, that one can only associate with a festival of this nature, where fun and frolic is the order of the day. This is the unique aspect about Bathukamma, which is at once synonymous and symbolic of the Telangana region in Andhra Pradesh.
Every household, womenfolk in particular, had to be a wholehearted part and parcel of the festivities. It is not just about colorful decorations in the front yard but the captivating display of flowers of every hue, each in full bloom that stands out.
Truly speaking the paraphernalia essential for Bathukamma were, and are, dependent on the availability of water. This, as we shall find out, has a direct bearing on how the festival is celebrated.
Decked up with local flowers, Bathukamma, the pyramid- shaped heap, is the art of decorating with an impeccable precision. The more colorful the get up, the more magnetic is the attraction. This is made amply clear when one gets to see the painstaking efforts taken by the family members right into the wee hours of D-Day.
To facilitate long-lasting freshness, flower sellers virtually knock on every door before dawn. It is their day, as flowers constitute the most important component of the festival.
Shouting in a shrill voice they grandly announce the flowers they have for sale like tangedu, gunugu, banthi, Bathukamma puvvulu (flowers).
Bathukamma is the exclusive propriety of women. My maternal aunt was no exception. She had to belong to it. Towards this, the pious lady would make all arrangements and well in time. She went about the flower purchase exercise, including tough bargaining, with meticulous care. Her favorite was without a shade of doubt the pre-dominant Bathukamma flowers.
There was an unwritten governing rule. Whichever house/front yard boasted of the most colorful, the largest and topped in height was the toast of the neighborhood. In addition to carving a niche for themselves with their creativity and getting a pride of place, that house was the envy of `the contenders’.
No, there were no prizes up for grabs. The seriousness was devoured because the joy that was derived and the sense of déjà vu following the outcome ran through the whole year.
All over Telangana, the festival was a nine-day celebration with the finale known as `Pedda (big)’ Bathukamma or more aptly pronounced in local dialect as `Chadulu’, being accomplished with pride, gaiety and fervor.
Each day of those days has a special significance. On the sixth day (arrem), for instance, a call is given to herald the end of the festivities. On that day, there is a break of sorts and a bar on playful activities.
Bathukamma is usually celebrated from Ashwayuja shuddha pandyami to Maharnavami.
In Warangal, where I spent my entire childhood in an area called as Beet bazaar, the populace had a sizeable presence of komatis (the traditional business community). This community went about the celebration with a noticeable tranquility. They patronized it totally, and completely.
Likewise, my grandmother brought about an element of total participation from all of us. In retrospective, it could be surmised as passing on the baton with a determined purposefulness. The show must go on, as one might point out.
The decoration of the pyramid-shaped heap has a traditional and established meaningfulness. There is a particular pattern that has to be abided with.
Serving as the base for Bathukamma is a miniature wooden stool (called as peeta). Immediately above is placed a tambalam (brass plate) or whichever the particular family can afford.
The flower pattern is unique. Tangedu (yellow flowers) are at the bottom. Atop that is Gunugu (white). Banthi (Marigold) acts as the cover for the Bathukamma. As for me, the tangedu had a striking and long lasting impression, drawn as I was by its enchanting and ethereal beauty. While these form the fundamentals, one can add flowers of any color they want.
Even as these are gone about silently, the playful atmosphere notwithstanding, the dawn of the eagerly awaited first day brings alive the proceedings. All geared up and ready well before sunrise, women and children breathe life with a spontaneity that only Bathukamma can bring about.
In our vicinity were two temples. One with Lord Shiva as the presiding deity and the other revered as the Aakarapolla Gudi. The womenfolk went around these two temples, even as the roads were dotted by equally decked up Bathukamma, being brought by others. The Bathukamma proudly adorned their heads. Carrying on the head is deemed as the actual participation.
Later, I came to know that legend behind the commencement of this festival has it that women invoke blessings for a long and healthy life of their husbands. Yes, there is purposefulness behind the festival.
My mother, by habit, used to visit the Lord Shiva temple on the first two days. I, of course, devotedly accompanied her. My elder and younger sisters carried the Bathukamma on their head. My sisters played and danced around with girls of their age group inside the precincts of the temple and my mother joined an elderly group.
But, being a toddler, I enjoyed the rare distinction of being allowed inside the temple. The secret was at the entrance I would cling to my mother’s sari. This was imperative because I feared the temple person posted to man the entrance to forbid the entry of men and street-smart operators.
And, let me tell you, I had a royal time witnessing the frenzied celebration that was undertaken with a gay abandon. Even as I went around the temple, I jumped high to dong the bells and applied the sacred tilak and prayed in front of all the deities housed inside.
What was even more mesmerizing was the aromatic smell that emanated inside the temple- a combination of smells coming from the myriad flowers, the incense sticks and from burning wicks at the temple. Of course, there was din, thanks to intermittent singing.
Once, the formalities were completed, we were homebound. On the way back, my mother would graciously buy balloons, sweets and all special eatables so that our day would be complete. And I enjoyed every second of it.
Me, and my sisters, like all other children, longed for the speedy arrival of Bathukamma every year. Not merely because of the good tidings that it brought but, more importantly, at least in my case, because it promised to bring plenty of goodies. Our ever-doting grandmother played Santa Claus, to near perfection, come Bathukamma.
She would send new clothes. We would get mouth-watering sweets and an enticing variety of dishes. The visual delight the nine-days provided came as a bonus. What more could one ask for? Hence, if it was looked forward to, the reasons were pretty obvious.
Well, these are my first experiences of Bathukamma. That was how I got a taste of it. And the spellbinding effect has not diminished one bit. It is understandable. The overwhelming spectacle has remained an enchanting phenomenon.
There were some uniquely conceptualized aspects about Bathukamma. As Pedda Bathukamma drew near, there was comparatively a lot more hectic activity, including in our house.
The culmination of the nine-day festival was equally electrifying. The Pedda Bathukamma was immersed in the waters, although what was considered auspicious was to immerse it in the Bhadrakali pond.
It is believed that this belief gained prominence, thanks to patronization by the great Kakatiya dynasty. With such impressive backing, and with the hysterical approach to the immersion, I can conclude that the Bathukamma celebrations were, inarguably, the finest in Warangal.
People would come from far off places to have a feel and be a part of the experience. The people, in hundreds and thousands were so drawn by this that not only were they actively involved in this lavish setting but also were so oblivious of the time that it would be well past sunset by the time they would return home.
I recall that tailors and goldsmiths abounded the neighborhood. This was because it was that time of the year when people would require their services at the eleventh hour. Tailors, carrying a tape and some cloth, would ‘search’ for customers. They would try to cash in on the prevailing sentiments. Some wanted to look immaculately dressed and a last-minute tailoring work on their favorite dresses remained. Therefore the services of tailors played a pivotal role.
Goldsmiths, with a balance and the patented pink-color paper wrappers, were quite popular, including with my aunt. I think women wanted to get their prized ornaments repaired on the spot to look glittering and bask in the glory.
Prior to the commencement of the immersion procession a lot of work had to be complied with. It was customary that from among varied flowers three local varities, Thangedu, gunugu and banthi had to be used.
However, my mother would certainly go for erra Tamara (lotus), which was almost like a status symbol.
She would add a dash of red, blue and green colors to the gunugu, which enhanced the appeal. I too took a part in this dyeing process because my creative instincts came to the fore.
After toiling for hours together my mother and sisters would take a break after the Pedda Bathukamma was ready. By then it would be afternoon.
Once the job was done, the Bathukamma would be placed in the devunnu arra (puja room). No sooner were drumbeats heard and voices were heard from across the street, then the Bathukamma would be brought outside the house and placed in the front yard.
The women would gleefully dance around the crème de la crème, Bathukamma, amid fun, frolic and laughter even as drumbeats rent the air. Song and joyfulness is of particular importance.
Thereafter, all roads led to the Bhadrakali pond, as they say.
Women draped in the finest of their saris, generally the pattu variety, would flaunt their creations and showcase the impressively decorated Bathukamma on their heads in perfect tango and harmony with the saris. After all this was to please Goddess Gowramma.
I remember, the fields were a sea of greenery and breathtaking flowers were in full bloom. It was too enticing. Perhaps, our forefathers saw logic behind celebrating the thanksgiving festival in October, after the rain gods have showered their blessings.
Incidentally, Bathukamma festival coincides with the Navaratri (Dasara) festival across the country. It is during these nine days, that people in Telangana celebrate Bathukamma, with equal fervor and enthusiasm.
These nine days are preceded by a nine-day celebration of Bodamma festival, which is basically meant for the children. There would be song, dance and laughter. Interestingly, the rice that is collected by the children during these nine days is used to make payasam, which is shared and relished by one and all. During the Bodamma festival songs praising Gowramma are rendered
By practice one has to prepare veduru or duseru woven creeper, with an overwhelming collection of flowers, including the vegetable variety on each of the nine days. These range from gummadi, Thangedu, pydi thangedu, gunugu, nuvvu, rudraksha, katla, goranta, kakara, beera and potla to ganneru.
If on the first day betel nut placed on tulsi leaves are exchanged between families, on the Pedda Bathukamma day pesara (grams), wheat, rice, coconut and nuvvulu (sesame) are exchanged at the immersion spot.
On the ninth day, it is customary to prepare garelu (Wada) for breakfast, Pulihora (tamarind rice) for lunch and jaggery-rich laddoos for consumption during dinner.
By 4pm each member of the household, elders and younger ones, are attired in their best dress and adorned with gold and jewellery. Thereafter they head towards the nearest lake or stream following which they visit the nearby temple.
After placing the Bathukamma in the open, the women go around it, hand in hand, to offer their prayers. Sari folded in typical style they dance around merrily while clapping their hands. Men can watch this from afar. The woman with the most melodious voice in the group is compelled to render songs on popular demand. The rest of the members constitute the chorus.
The songs are to invoke the blessings of various goddesses like Lakshmi, Parvathi as also Sita Anasuya, Chandramathi, Shashi Rekha, Satyabhama, Savitri, Kanyaka Parameshwari, who are eulogized wholeheartedly. By principle, the renditions end with any one of the following three tributes, Ooyala, Chandamama or Gouramma.
The bonhime continues till late in the evening. Soon thereafter, each of the women brings out the delicacies she has brought for the occasion. Although, it is the sattupindi that is brought in majority there is no bar on bringing any other food or sweet dish. After sharing with each other, they partake the dishes.
Like Goddess Kali idol is immersed in water on the concluding day of the Navaratri celebrations, similarly Bathukamma is at times immersed in a stream or well that serves the purposes of drinking water. The overwhelming belief is that once flowers from the Pedda Bathukamma are placed inside the waters, the water would be purified and remains so for all time to come.
However, the pasupu mudda (depicting Gowramma) is not thrown inside the water. Rather every married woman applies a paste of this, after dipping it in the by now holy water, on her mangalsutra (the sacred thread/nuptial knot that marks the solemnization of her marriage) so that her husband is protected from all evils and ill fate. They also smear their cheeks and neck with the paste.
In essence, praying for the long and healthy life of the husband is what the entire festival is all about.
Once the immersion starts the pond/stream/well are deluged with Bathukamma, some of them glittering with the lit wicks. In the night they glow and emit a brilliant radiance that is a sight to behold.
Bathukamma has a social relevance in that men and women from their respective villages or towns get a chance to interact with each other as they assemble in specific spots.
For women, this is a rare opportunity. During these nine days, they forget the ordeals, agonies and pain or whatever as they get a feel of the outside world. This is because they mingle with unknown people and become oblivious of their travails and tribulations, the day-to-day chores. In short, it is bliss time.
But then these are images from a seemingly distant past. The world was to change, alter these equations, once I stood on my legs and started eking out a livelihood.
After I took to the camera and became a full-fledged photographer, I had the opportunity to shoot the entire Bathukamma festivities at Bhadrakali, my chosen spot, on two occasions. However, in my initial years as a lensman, black and white was in the forefront and color photography was still in its formative stages, at least in India.
It was then that I realized that coverage of Bathukamma could be justified, and the finer and intrinsic aspects brought in regale glory, only in color. To fulfill this obsession, I shot Bathukamma celebrations, all over again, after I went in for color, which is now the benchmark.
On color I have frozen images of every aspect of the nine-day festivities-the decoration, prayer, song and laughter and immersion. I can proudly say that I was on cloud nine when I could capture these lifetime moments in color. Of course, the black and white photographs still adorn my shelf.
But, over the years, I have noticed startling changes, some of which have moved me beyond despair. True gaiety and the colorful decorations still characterize the festival. But what pains me, particularly having followed and enjoyed it, is the total lack of dancing around the Bathukamma. There are no more hand-in-hand dances, not much of clapping and complete absence of drumbeats.
If in the days gone by loud music was the attraction, now there seems to be an eerie silence, metamorphically speaking.
Call it urbanization or commercialization, now one can see women flashing the best of saris and jewellery during the festival. Even the otherwise generous patrons also have subject themselves to a mere cosmetic presence, more like participating in a fashion parade rather than completing the ritual in its true sense of the term. The sheen, the exuberant charm of Bathukamma is sadly missing. And nothing can be more unfortunate than that.
In fact, more than anything, I feel the younger, and future, generations are being denied something that provides more entertainment than probably any film, drama or TV serial.
Forget the upper class, even those from the lower strata have formed their own groups and merely go about the exercise. People with unmelodious voices and those who cannot shake a leg or two experiment their talents (?) on these occasions. If rhythm goes for a six, none is bothered. Nor are they overly concerned.
Alarmed at this sorry plight, and driven by an inherent quest for reviving the glorious Bathukamma of yore, I set about on an adventure, one that encompassed the length and breadth of Telangana. I thought I could make use of my creativity and my ability to bring about a comparison between the present and the past.
The mission was simple-try to locate, tap and hone all those singers, naturally endowed artistes who could bring back the crowds or help in reliving what was the hallmark of a bygone era.
Rejuvenated, and fully driven by this obsession, I went, to begin with, to the historical Warangal Fort a decade ago. A semblance of what I know of Bathukamma still remains.
I visited a remote place. I was delighted that women were enacting the very sort of song and dance that symbolizes Bathukamma. And in my click-happy frenzy, I shot all available postures that typified the festival. (Of course, there were no water sources or reservoirs and immersion, obviously, was a thing of the past).
Delighted at this windfall, I went hunting for more such photographs. I traversed the lanes and by-lanes of Telangana districts. In a decade since, I have had the opportunity to get hold of some rare photographs.
But there is a stark reality that has not missed my eye. As against the gripping scenes that remain etched in memory, I noticed a rather lackadaisical approach.
Subsequently, I heard that Siddipet comes a close second to Warangal in terms of the magnitude of hysteria and celebration. And Siddipet literally beckoned me.
I headed towards Bandaram, because my friend Siddhareddy, who is a native of that village, assured me that Bathukamma, according to what I know, is still enacted there.
Being a fairly big village, I loved the place. It was a photographer’s delight. There was scope for several interesting photographs, and on diverse subjects.
The moment I stepped into Siddhareddy’s house, I noticed frenzied activity, a throwback on my childhood days. His sister, her children and other members of the family were engrossed in preparing Bathukamma in the traditional way. Wasting not even a second, I caught the image and felt happy that I could get one so soon.
Adding depth to the photograph was my friend’s father, who was seated on a chair just yonder, watching with keenness the entire proceedings.
Spending some more time there, I decided to venture out. Many women were busy with the Pedda Bathukamma preparations.
However, in the course of my search, I noticed something that baffled me. Pedda Bathukamma apart, every house had paper Bathukamma also. My curiosity goaded me to confront one or two elderly women as to why they were opting for a paper Bathukamma, in addition to the flower-decked ones.
The reply was emotional and heart rending. “How can we afford to celebrate in the traditional style? As you are aware there have been no rains. Drought is a nightmare we have to cope up and live with. Ponds, streams and even wells have dried up. So where is the question of procuring as many flowers as we want, although we know they are the vital part of the festival.
“ We have been advised that in order to raise the height, we go in for dome-shaped pyramids with the alternatives. Hence, the paper version.’’
That made me pause for a second. I detested the adverse effects of modernization or globalization, whatever one would like to call industrialization. Not only people in the metros but even those inhabiting the interiors are paying a heavy price because of the absence of eco-balance. And there appears to be no respite for these unfortunate people.
Indeed, decades later there is a sea change. This is more so as urbanization has stepped in. Felling of trees, pollution that has become a fatal attraction and perennial shortage of water have aggravated the problems.
Moreover, we now stay in Hyderabad, which is also in Telangana but is devoid of the rustic charm. The changing styles are an offshoot of the economic developments, high standards of education and in most instances we now have an increasing number of workingwomen.
But heart in heart, I solemnly swear, my adoration for Bathukamma remains to this day. In fact, if it does not sound an exaggeration, it only keeps getting stronger and firmer with each passing year. And so is my resolution to revive it in all its glory.
Today, I take delight in telling my son and daughter about the mesmerizing `Bathukamma’ experiences. And they relish my story telling abilities as much.
Well, the aura remains. Nothing can take away the sheen of Bathukamma and for that matter the traditional way of celebration.
The rest is up to the Rain Gods and those championing the cause of nature, the environmentalists, to come to the rescue of the people.
Hope, after all, springs eternal. Period.
Click to read the article about Bathukamma in Telugu (Courtesy delightnews.com)