The festival of Bathukamma is the largest, unique and most important festival celebrated by the women of Telangana. Just as the great freedom fighter Bal Gangadhar Tilak brought in the tradition of celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi for ten days, Bathukamma played a significant role on the cultural plane of the Telangana agitation. It is not without reason that Bathukamma has become the unique identity of Telangana culture.
Celebrated ahead of Dasara every year, ‘Mahalaya Amavasya’ heralds the start of the festival of flowers which lasts nine days. Women worship goddess Gauri (Gauramma) during the festival which is celebrated as Navaratri in the rest of the country. The ninth day is called ‘Saddulu’ or ‘Pedda Bathukamma’, which falls one or two days before Dasara (Durgashtami).
For the uninitiated, Bathukamma is a stack of flowers arranged in the order of varied local seasonal flowers on a brass plate. Since it reflects the spirit of the State, one gets to see a lot of Gunugu, Thangedi, Banthi, Chamanti variety of flowers among other types. Previously, Bathukamma was prepared using Thangedi, Jilledu, Ganneru, Gunugu, Gaddy, Vama, Seethapjeda and Gummadi, but only a few of these are available now. Also many flowers like Tangedi were very delicate to handle.
Previously, plates used to be arranged using flowers from the fields, but now they are bought from the markets. Despite that, the leaf meant to hold all the flowers in the shape of Bathukamma is also not found in many places. In that way, efforts to grow traditional flowers by the Horticulture Department and farmers are commendable.
Assistant director of horticulture in Nalgonda, Jalagam Aruna, says, “As the season begins, we get lot of people asking for rare flowers since we have all the information pertaining to vegetables, fruits and flower plants. But we still try to help them out with the flowers on where to source them.”
As the season rolls around, households in Telangana get busy with preparations for the big festival which not only involves flowers but also gives an opportunity to families to get together.
Homemaker Vani says that her house is full of activity during the festival as she and her mother-in-law get busy, preparing Bathukamma from afternoon. In the evening, women dress in colourful sarees and wear ornaments throughout the nine days and take their Bathukamma and gather in large numbers near a temple or out of the house. “We place the Bathukamma in the centre of the rangoli by forming a circle and sing a song clapping hands as we go around,” says Vani. In fact, many of the steps in the dance are influenced by those of the tribal dances. Now of course, people have also started playing Dandiya.
It’s a similar story at another homemaker Swapna Charan’s house who has been observing the festival since childhood.
“When a girl is married off, she takes minimum five phalahaaralu (snacks) to her in-laws’ house. During Bathukamma, the gesture is returned by the in-laws,” explains Swapna. An important snack of the region is sakkinaalu, as the green gram is freshly harvested by this time.
“Pesarapappu laddus are also prepared and offered to Bathukamma,” adds Swapna Charan.
Yoga trainer Aaradhya Reddy says that aerobics and zumba dances came much later, but the practice of dancing in the evening had been in existence for quite some time. “After lunch, all family members would gather and dance in the name of god to the tunes of Bathukamma. It was an indirect form of aerobics and physical exercises,” explains Reddy.
Earlier, Bathukamma was celebrated by NRIs hailing from Telangana. After the formation of a separate State, the joy was ten-fold and the celebrations became grander. “One good thing which happened after bifurcation is that we all came together. More than 30 countries celebrate it now. In fact, not many know that even Tanzania is organising Bathukamma this year coordinated by our department. In India, it will be celebrated at Telangana Bhavan in Delhi,” says Hari Krishna, Director, Department of Language and Culture.
There is a saying in Telangana that if you are born a girl, you have to play Bathukamma, which is the beauty of the festival. It gives importance to relationships between human beings, earth and water which culminate with the submergence of the decorated plates in water on the last day.
Melodies of everyday life
After Shravan masam, there is an increase in the search for Bathukamma-specific songs. Almost every year, a new song is revived and brought out by music companies in the State. Interestingly, unlike other festivals, there is no particular theme for any of these songs, it can be the story of Lord Rama, Lord Krishna or any other individual or it can also talk about the daily life of the common man. The beauty is that anything can be used as a story and then converted into a melodious song.
“We generally come across Uyyalo, Gowramma, Chandamama and many more such words which are repeated and meant for chorus singing. This is meant to involve everyone so that they can follow the lead singer and join in the singing,” says Acharya Kasi Reddy Venkat Reddy, expert in folk music and traditions of Telangana.
To get the youth to come on board the festivities, some musicians have also started using contemporary tunes and beats in traditional songs. Often, many of these songs picturised in villages can even match cinema standards.
Life to people & people to life
Talk about Bathukamma, the festival of flowers at any point of time, and K Kavitha, TRS MP from Nizamabad, certainly finds mention in the conversation. Owing to her work in bringing awareness about the festival, Kavitha has somewhat become synonymous with the festival. An inspiration to women from all strata of society, she recalls the excitement she felt at the prospect of making the Bathukammas at home as a child. “Celebrating Bathukamma comes naturally to me, it’s like an instinct. My grandmother was very active and a driving force. Every woman in Telangana celebrates it with great fervour and my grandmother echoed that sentiment. The festival has literally brought life to people and people to life,” says Kavitha. In 2016, the MP visited nine countries in seven days to promote the festival.
“They are already doing a very good job abroad. It is a very enduring thing and lifted their spirits to a great extent. A message from home gives them a lot of strength to carry on; the Telangana community is a very well connected one,” says Kavitha.
Compared to other States, Telangana’s geography and geology are a little different, giving birth to Tangedu and Gunugu flowers and plants which possess medicinal qualities. We know that the ancient tradition of Bathukamma was attunement with nature, where flowers and leaves of plants like the Indian marigold, chrysanthemum and ash gourd were used to cleanse and purify large water bodies meant for drinking water.
In a way, the last day falls at the end of the monsoon so stagnant water prone to bacteria and disease-causing deadly germs are purified. The preservation process called for large groups of people to take charge irrespective of caste, creed and barriers, leading to a unifying tradition. On a lighter note, Kavitha explains, “Women don’t put these flowers in their hair and don’t use it in Puja. The philosophy being that these are flowers which nobody cares for. They are not grown yearlong and are basically wild flowers which survive on their own. When you use them to worship the goddess Gouri, they gain an importance which is the foundation of the festival. It is this importance that the people of Telangana used to accord to the environment.” The wild flowers also signify a social message and are equivalent to social class. “Just like how one picks a Tangedu or Gunugu flower, people from all walks of life come together in a great example of equality, brotherhood which are part and parcel of Bathukamma. Having lived in a village, I have seen this happen. The woman who works at your home will also play along with you. There is no exclusion in Bathukamma,” states Kavitha.
It is this message of inclusiveness, which the festival propagates. The Jilledu plant which is not touched during any other time is specially used during this festival. “Everybody is worthy of worshiping, this is the broader philosophical, social, spiritual, message underlying the festival,” says Kavitha.
It is undoubtedly remarkable that amid changing times, long years of neglect and disconnect that followed, Bathukamma has stood the test of time and emerged to reclaim its glory. “This year, our entire organization, Jagruthi, will be participating in the Maha Bathukamma. Around 40,000 women are to be mobilized and will see participation from all cadres. Like every year, we will be celebrating it in every constituency and mandal headquarter,” says Kavitha. In addition to the various cultural programmes, one crore eight lakh sarees will be distributed to women across the State. “This is for anybody who has white ration cards and is above 18 years of age. Even Muslim and Christian women are eligible for this,” says Kavitha, adding that there are big plans on the rural development front. “Rural economic engine is inclusive of caste and community, till date governments have worked with a top to down approach. The bottom of the pyramid is the village, if we start working from there, the foundation becomes very strong. To achieve Bangaru Telangana, all the ingredients are ready. We are on the way to achieving that goal very soon,” says Kavitha.