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Village & Mother Goddess – Lashkar Bonalu జూలై 26, 2007

Posted by M Bharath Bhushan in Articles, Bonalu, Hyderabad.

Old-timers gung-ho about Bonalu – Sapna Kaushik  

A slice of history, women with colourful pots, a man dancing to the sound of reverberating drum beats and what have you?

The festival’s history can be traced to as recent as the 18th century, unlike most other festivals whose ancestry can be traced back to the hoary past.  The story has it that in 1813, Suriti Appaiah, a ‘doli’ bearer in a military battalion, was transferred to Ujjain. Cholera broke out in Hyderabad around that time claiming thousands of lives.

Appaiah and his associates went to the Mahankaal temple in Ujjain and prayed that if people were saved from the epidemic, they would install the idol of Mahankali in Secunderabad. On their return, they installed a wooden idol of the goddess in Secunderabad in July 1815. This was replaced with a stone statue in 1964.

Following brahminical traditions, all hoary Hindu festivals are marked by astrological precision: their timings marked in terms of the sun/moon entering certain constellations in certain months. But Bonalu is a festival of the farming and lower classes and is certainly not brahminical. So the timing of the celebrations are not so rigorous.

Bonalu is celebrated in various parts of the city on different days, all Sundays. On the first Sunday of ‘aashaada’, celebrations are held at the temple at Golconda fort. On the second Sunday, at Ujjain Mahankali in Secunderabad, and the third Sunday, at the Matheswari temple of Lal Darwaza in Old City.
B Narsing Rao, a social activist says: “The celebrations begin at the
Golconda, on July 22, followed by Secunderabad on July 29 and at the Old City on August 5”.

Bonalu involves the worship of Kali and her various forms. She destroys disease and keeps pestilence at arms length. Narsing Rao adds: “Three deities — Maisamma, Pochamma and Elamma, are worshipped. The performances are marked by an element of agression. Potharaju, a masculine power, is believed to weed out all evils. Earlier, they used to sacrifice a he-buffalo. Now, goats or chickens are sacrificed to ward off the ‘evil spirit’. During Bonalu, colourful brass pots, smeared with haldi and kumkum, and decorated with neem leaves are offered to the goddess. The pots usually contain a mixture of raw rice, jaggery, and milk. Sometimes, curd is also used. G Shankar, who lives near the Mahankali temple in Secunderabad, says: “A month before the actual festival begins, there is a ritual called ‘ghatam’, wherein the deity is decked up with flowers and taken to the doorstep of those who cannot come to the temple”.

He adds: “On the first day of Bonalu, ‘phalaru bandulu’, a buffalo cart, laden with fruits is taken around (phalaru means fruits and bandlu, cart). On the second day of the festival, a ritual known as ‘rangam’ is held. Here, a woman stands on a wet clay pot and makes predictions. This is held mostly between 8.30 am and 9.30. An hour later, a procession is taken out on an elephant up to Mettuguda. Earlier, Mettuguda was the border of the city. To this day, the tradition continues”.

“There’s a lot of revelry attached to the festivities. Since animal sacrifice is banned at the temples, people mostly do it at home”, says Shankar.
“Bonalu is celebrated in the Old City too. There are three main temples that celebrate the festival: Akkanna Madanna temple in Haribowli, Muthyalu temple in Shah Ali Banda and the Mahankali temple at Lal Darwaza.”
However, of these, celebrations at the 400-year-old Akkanna Madanna temple are the most popular. A bonalu procession is taken around the area on an elephant with the image of goddess Mahankali. Ayub Khan, who has seen Bonalu celebrations for long says that fifty years ago, Muslims too would participate in this festival. “In fact, one year, a Muslim was the potharaju.” Ujjain Mahankali temple’s executive director K Krishnaswamy says: “Every year, lakhs of devotees congregate to pay obeisance to Mahankali. Since some areas in Bidar and Maharashtra were part of the Nizam’s dominions, people from those areas also come here to take part in the celebrations”.Other than these big temples, many villages have their own version of the festival. Gandicheru, a tiny hamlet tucked away near the Ramoji Film City, celebrates it by worshiping a small idol of Poshamma mata, decorated with vermillion and turmeric.
Lalithamma, who has been part of this for over 50 years says: “Every year, a family spends around Rs 3,000 to Rs 5,000 for Bonalu. We start decorating the pots with haldi, kumkum and neem leaves and by evening, we are all set for the procession. This goes on till midnight”, she says. “The purpose behind this ritual”, chips in another veteran Gangamma is that “our children should remain healthy”.  Source: Times of India, Hyderabad, 21 July 2007


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