Ashada Jatara is a state festival, way popularly known as ‘Bonalu’ in Telangana. Traditionally, celebrated on the Shashti tithi of Shukla paksha (sixth day) of the ‘Ashada Maasa’(month) from the past so many years this festival reflects Telangana’s rich heritage and culture.
Bonalu is an annual Telangana traditional Hindu festival that is celebrated in the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad.
This illustrious festival of South is solemnized in honor of the Goddess Kali or Mahakali, in her most vigorous incarnation (avatar)- Shakti and is hailed as the Goddess of Time and death. Mahakali is worshipped in all her manifestations during the festival with different temples observing different ceremonies.
Seen as the Goddess of death, Mahakali is commonly portrayed in a striking manner with her four arms holding weapons and a severed head. Her skin is blue with fiery eyes and she often wears a necklace made from the skulls of demons she has killed.
The word “Bonalu” is derived from the Telugu word “Bhojanam” for “feast”. And rightfully so as this festival is no less than a feast, wherein special delicacies are prepared as offerings for the Goddess Mahakali. The Goddess is worshiped in different forms and spiritual rituals, and poojas are conducted to appease her.
History and Significance
The ancestry of the festival dates back to the 19th century when the region that is today Hyderabad and Secunderabad underwent the outbreak of a deadly plague. Just prior to this, a military battalion from Hyderabad was deployed to Ujjain.
When this military battalion from Hyderabad got to know about the epidemic in the twin cities, they prayed to the Mother Goddess in Mahakali to deliver them from this distressing plague and if the Goddess did so, they would install an idol of the Goddess in the city.
The plague was curbed, and in gratitude, they built an idol for Mahakali in Secunderabad which was followed by the offering of Bonalu to Her. They devoted themselves to worship Her in remembrance of the grace and mercy which She bestowed upon them, and from that very day, the people there started dedicating this day in her reminiscence every year.
Bonalu has been a regular celebration in Hyderabad/Secunderabad as a thanksgiving festival of all sorts. This is the history of the festival Bonalu and how it originated and has been ever followed since then.
Each Sunday of this month-long festival has an earmarked “Mahankali Jatara” to some distinct temples of the Goddess. The first Sunday begins as an offering at the ancient Jagadamba temple inside Golconda fort. The second Sunday witnesses a similar procession and celebrations at the Mahankali Temple in Secunderabad and Yellamma temple in Balkampet.
The third Sunday is for Pochamma and Katta Maisamma temple, in Chilkalguda, and the Lal Darwaza temple in Old City, near Charminar. The fourth Sunday is a round-up.
These Sundays witness the Jataras or colorful processions, with hundreds of women dressed in colorful silks and finery, to bring out the traditional grace of the attire, carry steel and earthen Bonams on their heads to offer to the Goddess kali.“Bonams” are pots filled with a curd-jaggery-rice mixture, and decorated with turmeric, neem leaves, vermillion and a lamp burning on top.
In addition to this Devotees also offer a paper structure supported by bamboo sticks called ‘Thotella’ at the temple. This offering is a thanksgiving, more importantly, it is a prayer for safekeeping, good monsoons, bountiful crops, and protection from epidemics and calamities.
The women are accompanied by men, dressed in small tightly draped dhotis, painted in turmeric all over, and wearing anklet bells and garlands- the “Potharaju”. In accordance with the mythology, Potharaju is believed to be the brothers of the Goddess who are worshipped as “protectors of dharma”, they dance to the drums and lash their whips dramatically.
The procession beholds an air of excitement and energy, with special songs and dancing forming a mandatory part. The processions terminate at the temples, which have been freshly painted, lit up, and decorated with flowers for the festival.
The next morning of the festival Rangam is held. A woman stands on top of an earthen pot invoking Goddess Mahakali onto her and performs the custom. She foretells the coming year for the devotees asking about the future.
Many beliefs are there around Bonalu, and one of them is that the Goddess visits her maternal home this month. Women are often regarded as acquiring the spirit of the mother goddess at this moment, and their feet are washed before they enter the temple to pacify the aggressive spirit.
Married girls are welcomed to their parent’s house for one week, where they together offer Bonam to the Goddess in that area, the next week, similarly, the ritual would also be held in her in-law’s place, in some other locality to the Goddess there. This tradition of collective praying and sharing of fortunes extends across areas and across weeks.
Bonalu is the Mother of all festivals. It is important for three major reasons:
1)Prayers are offered for composite welfare;
2) it involves everyone because of its simplicity and universal appeal and
3) it goes on for a whole month.
Something that was once started as a ritual to appease and thank the Goddess, has now become an occasion to “pray for global peace” with the simplicity of the rituals, the merry singing and dance, food, fun, and finery contributing to its attractiveness. Slowly but surely, the appeal is catching on.