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Bonalu: India celebrates Hindu festival to honour Goddess Mahankali

The festivities begin on the first Sunday of ‘Aashaad Maas’ as per the South Indian calendar at the Golconda Mahankali temple situated within the Golconda Fort

  • The word ‘Bonalu’ means a meal or a feast in Telugu
  • The history of this festival celebrated in the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad that dates back to 1813
  • In 2016, the Bonalu Jatra 2016 dates are July 10, July 17, July 24 and July 31

One of the central tenets of Hinduism is the concept of the Shakti, the feminine energy embodied by the universal mother who is revered in various forms across India. Currently, the mother goddess is being celebrated in the southern state of Telangana with an array of rituals that comprise the festival of Bonalu dedicated to Goddess Mahankali.

The word ‘Bonalu’ means a meal or a feast in Telugu. It signifies the offering of rice cooked in milk and jaggery in new earthen pots which are presented to the goddess along with vermillion, turmeric, and bangles.

The whole India celebrates this Hindu Festival but on different dates  and in different months. In Hyderabad and Secunderabad in Telangana, Bonalu is dedicated to Mother Goddess (Shakti) and is observed in the month of Ashada (July – August). This festival is observed on in the temples of Telangana on the Sundays, in particular, in the Ashada month (June – July). Thus, the Bonalu Jatra 2016 dates are July 10, July 17, July 24 and July 31. This year in the Ujjaini Mahankali Temple, it will be celebrated on July 24 and the Rangam is on July 25.

Women celebrating Bonalu Festival. Image source: www.newindianexpress.com
Women celebrating Bonalu Festival. Image source: www.newindianexpress.com

The history of this festival celebrated in the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad that dates back to 1813 when the plague broke out in the region. A military battalion from Hyderabad that was stationed in Ujjain at that time prayed to Mahankali of Ujjain for deliverance. The goddess granted their wish. To express their gratitude and devotion, the battalion had an idol of her installed and offered her the ‘Bonalu’. The tradition continues even today.

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According to another version, ‘Bonalu’ has its origin in the mythological belief that during the Aashada Month Mahankali comes back to her parental home. A feast is then organised to pamper her just as a married daughter visiting home would be and therefore a lot of food is offered to the Deity.

The festivities begin on the first Sunday of ‘Aashaad Maas’ as per the South Indian calendar at the Golconda Mahankali temple situated within the Golconda Fort. In the procession women, dressed in traditional attire, take the ‘Bonalu’ on their heads while they dance to the drum beats.

Pothuraju, the goddess' brother, dancing to the drums (Wikimedia Commons)
A man dressed as Pothuraju, the goddess’ brother, dancing to the drums. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

It is believed that while in the procession, women are possessed by the divine mother. To pacify the spirit, devotees sprinkle water on their feet and offer ‘Thottelus’ made of colored paper and bamboo sticks. Pothuraju, the goddess’ brother, lashes the whip and propels them forward. His role is played by bare-bodied, well-built man, smeared in vermillion and turmeric.

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A temple priest carries the Ghatam, a copper pot decorated in the form of the mother goddess, to its successive destinations which include Secunderabad’s Ujjaini Mahakali temple (also called as Lashkar Bonalu), Balkampet Yellama temple and then Sri Simhavahini Mahankali temple and Sri Akkanna and Madanna Mahankali temple at Lal Darwaza in the old city of Hyderabad. The ‘Ghatam’ is eventually immersed in the waters.

Another important element of the festival is the ‘Rangam’ or the Oracle where a woman foretells the events of the next year by invoking the spirit of Mahankali on herself.

– by Ashee Sharma of NewsGram

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