Celebrating Bathukamma A Festival of Flowers in Telangana
If you are not from Telangana the 29th state of India, chances are you have never heard about Bathukamma. So a bit of introduction and information about Bathukamma, the festival of flowers of Telangana is not out of order. Bathukamma is a festival with deep roots in agrarian traditions and worshipping Mother Goddess in the Telangana region. Just like the colorful festival of Bonalu dedicated to Mother Goddess, Bathukamma is also dedicated to Mother Goddess, but while Bonalu is for thanking the mother to save the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad from Plague, Bathukamma has many legends associated with it.
Some of the legends associated with Bathukamma festival are related to a princess of Chola dynasty who survived many misfortunes and was named Bathuku or life, and amma means mother. The other legends associated with Bathukamma are related to Sati the first wife of Shiva and Bathukamma is to pray to her to return. It is believed that Sati later returned as Goddess Parvati and the festival is also dedicated to Goddess Parvati. According to another myth Ma Gauri killed ‘Mahishasura or the Buffalo faced Demon after a fierce fight. After the battle the goddess went to sleep on the ‘Aswayuja Padyami’, as she was tired, so her devotees prayed to her to wake up and finally she woke up on the festival of Dasami.
Irrespective of what the belief is Bathukamma is celebrated in similar fashion in both rural as well as cities of Telangana. The festival is a visual treat to your eyes and the taste of mouth-watering savouries prepared will linger on your taste buds for days to come.
It is believed that Bathukamma loved flowers so the girls and women of each family make elaborate floral arrangements on a square bamboo basket, that taper to the top and resemble a temple Gopuram. The festival of Bathukamma begins from home, with women and girls of the family making the Bathukamma, then they all gather in the common area of the locality and pray to the goddess singing devotional songs in praise of the mother goddess and her various forms.
Men don’t have much role in the festival, but they do join the celebrations and help in carrying the Bathukamma or the floral decorations for the immersion in the local water body.
I have attended the Bathukamma festival in Hyderabad but never truly understood its significance. Till one day one of my colleagues brought some special dishes made during the Bathukamma festival. Now as you know the moment it comes to festival food I want to try it all and want to learn as much as possible. So we celebrated a potluck also in our office and some of our friends from Telangana region brought some dishes that are made and offered to the mother goddess during Bathukamma.
The best part is that every single day a different dish is prepared which using different ingredients sourced locally. This is a great reminder to us that our ancestors understood the concept of diversity in food much before we coined the term Bio diversity. Today most of the major food are made from rice, corn and wheat and we are forgetting the tradition of using varied cereals and millets. Fortunately the tradition of using various cereals, millets and local produce is alive in Telangana and no wonder Hyderabad has one of the rare millet based restaurant Aahaar Kuteer in Begumpet.
What amuses me most is that some of the millets that were always part of daily meal of our farmers are now coming back as super food after the scientists have discovered the many benefits of these millets and coarse grains. The colorful floral Bathukammas change the landscape of Telangana during the festivities and thankfully Telangana Tourism is bringing back the focus on these unique traditions and Festivals of Telangana.
For this post on Bathukamma festival I requested Mr. Chandrasekhar Singh who is a passionate photographer and has documented traditions of Telangana in his camera for many years now. His pictures have made to the cover of books, Telangana Tourism Website and many newspapers and magazines. Mr. Singh is also a NatGeo moment award winner, besides many other prestigious awards for his photographs. He also did a solo photography exhibition of his pictures with a specific focus on the Bathukamma Festival of Telangana, besides many other exhibitions like Wisdom of life etc.
So let me take you through the lens of Mr. Chandrasekhar Singh to watch some preparations and celebrations of Bathukamma festival of flowers in Telangana.
Check the picture above, where the process of making a Bathukamma has just begun. The women use local seasonal flowers to make the Bathukamma, and some of the common flowers used in making the Bathukamma are Cassia ( Amaltas ), Rose, Celosia, Chrysanthemum, Louts, marigold. All these flowers are not only beautiful they all have some medicinal quality and are regularly used in home remedies also. Besides ornamental flowers some of the flowers of vegetables and spices are also used in making Bathukamma like Cucurbita, Cucumis, Ipomea, Luffa, Ajwain ( Bishop’s Weed).
I think Bathukamma is also a celebration of our traditional folksy and Ayurveda wisdom that identified and respected local herbs for their medicinal properties e.g Cassia fistula or Indian Laburnum aka Amaltas in Hindi is a tree whose seeds are used in treatment of stomach ulcers, killing intestinal worms and for common colds etc. Ajwain seeds are a popular spice and used for stomach ailment besides adding as a spice in various dishes. Luffa roots are used in dropsy and as a laxative.
Bathukamma is not just a celebration of beautiful colors and flowers to worship the mother goddess, it is also passing of traditional wisdom to the next generation.
Each Bathukamma is unique and displays the creativity and design sensibility of the woman behind it. Making Bathukamma is something that girls learn by watching their mothers and start practicing making their own Bathukamma from an early age itself.
How a Bathukamma is made : Each Bathukamma is unique and takes few hours to prepare. The bottom layer that forms the base with leaves and stems is made flat and is called Thambalam and the flower cone is built on it. Inside layers are made by leaves and stems on which the flowers are arranged in a conical fashion, in layers creating multi colored layers from different colors and flowers.
Once the Bathukamma is ready the lady of the house feels proud but she is never satisfied and still wants to give a final touch to the same.
Once the Bathukamma is ready it is first kept in home till all the women in neighborhood are ready to meet and celebrate it together.
As all the Bathukammas are gathered in the courtyard, it is a proud moment for them and just like the women compare each other’s jewelry, saris the beauty of Bathukammas are also discussed and it appears as if many rainbows have descended on land. I always feel that these flower Bathukammas are like rangolis designs made outside homes only these are carried in a procession rather than just spending time on the floor.
Soon the ladies start singing songs in praise of the mother goddess Bathukamma and a chorus rises “EEMEEMI POOVAPPUNEE GOWRAMMA” slowly the beats becomes faster and the songs amplify the cosmic energy. As the evening proceeds the songs and the accompanying beats becomes rapid and the energy level start permeating even those standing on periphery as spectators. The group fuses, shedding individuality and moves, dances and sings as one. There are not individuals now comparing jewelry, sari and Bathukamma design and size, the sisterhood of Bathukamma has fused as one over songs and beats that are ingrained in their DNA for generations. EEMEEMI POOVAPPUNEE GOWRAMMA. EEMEEMI POOVAPPUNEE GOWRAMMA. ( listen to the song here )
The ninth day of bathukamma is celebrated on ashtami/eight day of Ashwayuja masam, and coincides with Durgashtami. Food offering/Naivedyam: Five types of cooked rice dishes: perugannam saddi(curd rice), chinthapandu pulihora saddi(tamarind rice), nimmakaya saddi(lemon rice), kobbara saddi(coconut rice) and nuvvula saddi(sesame rice).
Finally the Bathukamma are immersed in a local lake or pond but as they are made of 100 % biodegradable flowers and leaves and other organic matter there is no harm done to the water bodies. And if the locals are to be believed since most of the flowers and leaves used in making Bathukamma have medicinal and purification properties they actually help in cleansing the water. Though I am not sure how far that is true, but I am sure the flowers are sure not as harmful to water as the clay and plaster of paris idols painted with chemical colors.
The various rituals and foods prepared during Bathukamma can be checked here.
About the Photographer:
Chandrasekhar Singh is passionate documentary & lifestyle photographer based in Hyderabad, Telangana. He has won many prestigious awards for his photography, he is also the guiding force behind starting the Indian Photography Festival. Some of his work can be seen on Instagram & Facebook.
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