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India is the most diverse of all nations. There are 29 states in India and each state has its own State Festival. Of course, each festival is different. However, the celebrations and the underlying message of community participation and pervading all-around happiness is common in all these festivals like Bonalu. 

Bonalu is the state festival of the newly formed state of Telangana.  It is a festival to venerate the Mother Goddess Mahakali. People from Twin Cities Hyderabad and Secunderabad and in some parts of Telangana celebrate this festival with gusto in the Telugu month of Ashada which falls during July/August.

It is celebrated to welcome the Goddess Mahakali, who is believed to visit her maternal home at this time of the year.  The festival is also an expression of thanks to the Goddess who benevolently blesses all her devotees.

The Origin of this Festival

Bonalu comes from the Bhojanlu which means food/feast in the Telugu language. There are few versions as to the origin of Bonalu.  One version goes thus.  There was a great plague in 1813 in the twin cities.  The Hyderabadian Military Batallion is said to have prayed to Mahan Kali temple in Ujjain for the salvation of the problem.  It seems that the plague abated suddenly.  So to thank the Goddess of Ujjain, the Regiment decided to build a temple in her honor. They offered her Bonalu and this tradition continues till date.

Another version states that the mother goddess comes to her hometown every Ashad like all new brides. Hence it the best time best to please her and obtain her blessings.

How is Bonalu Celebrated?

Grand celebrations are held on all Sundays of the Ashada month in the twin cities of Telangana.  The festival is initiated at the Golconda Fort on the first Sunday.  The celebrations continue in Balkampet Yellama temple and Ujjaini Mahakali temple in Secunderabad.  On the third Sunday, the Bonalu goes to the Lal Darwaza Matheswari temple and Chilkalguda Katta Maisamma and Pochama temple.  Devotees pray to Muthyalamma in the old Hyderabad city, Akkana Madanna in Haribowli, Peenugula Mallana temple near the railway station and Dokalamma temple Shivajinagar during Bonalu.

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Women and young girls, looking their best in new sarees and jewels,  proceed towards the temple. They carry earthen and brass pots brimming with rice cooked in milk and Jaggery.  The pot is smeared with turmeric and a neem garland is adorned around its neck. A small lit lamp is placed on top.

bonalu photo

Photos by Shashank Mhasawade

They offer this pot, Bonalu, to Goddess Mahakali along with Bangles and Sarees in all temples across Telangana.  During this month smaller goddesses and local deities like Pedamma, Yellama, Nookalamma, Mysamma, Maremma, Pochamma, Ankalamma, and Dokkalamma are also revered. Another offering at the altar is Thottela, a structure made of colorful paper and sticks.

bonalu photo

Photos by Shashank Mhasawade

Few others walk in a trance or dance to the rhythmic beats of instruments.

Rituals associated with the festival

Potharaju: is the guardian of all the devotees and he initiates the festivities of Bonalu.  He carries a whip and wears a garland of neem leaves around his waist

Rangam: or performing the Oracle: A woman, in trance,  foretells the future standing on an earthen pot.  This tradition is performed on the next day of the festival.

Photos by Shashank Mhasawade

Ghatam:  The priest carries a copper pot, Ghatam, during the processions on all days of the festival.  It immersed in water on the last day. The Ghatam of Hari Bowli is carried atop an elephant and leads the procession.

Each area in Secunderabad and Hyderabad has its own unique traditions.  Lakhs of devotees follow the procession of the Ghatam with their own offerings.

The Feast:  Finally offerings are placed before the Goddess.  Sometimes roosters are sacrificed.  Later all the family members partake the feast concluding the festivities.

Be there in Telangana during the month and July/August and get the blessing of Mahakali, the savior of Cyberabad.

See Also -   Makar Sankranti

Featured Photo by Shashank Mhasawade


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