The festival is exclusive to the Telangana region and is celebrated for all the nine days of Dusshera.

Telanganas Bathukamma When the goddess returns as flowers Bathukamma by Kapu Rajaiah
news Culture Saturday, October 17, 2015 - 18:32

In the Telangana region, the festival of what is popular as ‘Dusshera’ or ‘Navaratri’ is celebrated with great pomp and splendor.  There are several ancient temples dedicated to the mother goddess.  Before we reach know about these temples and the goddess, it is important to have a general overview of the region.

The origin of the world ‘Telangana’ could be tracked to medieval times. A distortion of the word ‘Teluganamu’, meaning ‘the country of the Telugus’, ‘Tiling’ was a word used by Muslim historians. When Mohammad-Bin-Tughlaq transferred the capital from Delhi to Devagiri around 1326-1327 AD, the imperial dominions of the Deccan were divided into five provinces. ‘Tiling’ was listed as one of them.

The ‘Maasaalik- Ul-Absaar’ that gives a list of southern provinces mentions ‘Tiling’ twice. The Sultan had split the region into two independent administrative areas in 1335 AD. The eastern division had Warangal as its capital and the western had Bidar. The Tirupati epigraph of the Vijayanagara emperor Krishnadeva Raya dated 1516 AD, one can find references to his conquest of the region, which included Jallipalli, Anantagiri, Urlakonda, Nallagonda, Aruvapalli, Kandikonda and so forth. He is supposed to have performed prayers at various temples dedicated to the goddess in the region. In the Velicharla epigraph of Prataparudra Gajapati dated 1510 AD, he mentions conquering the forts of Telangana and performing rituals at the temples of the goddess. In ‘Vishnu Puranam’, a 17th century text written by Vennalakanti Soorannakavi one finds a mention of Telangana and its various festivals, again.

Bathukamma by Md Rustum

The Chalukyas of Badami and Kalyani as an extension of their dominions ruled the region. This was the time the famous ‘Nava Brahma Temples’ were built. Archeologists have roughly dated these to be around 6th and 7th centuries CE. By the time the Kakatiyas ruled the place, they made Hanumakonda and Warangal their main capitals. By then, the temples dedicated to the goddess worship were thriving. Across the Telangala region, goddess worship became a major reference point for the growth of the Shakta cults and the Bhakthi movement. She is worshipped as Gnana Saraswati Devi in Basara in Adilabad region, as Jogulamba in the ancient temples of Alampur, as Sammakka and Sarakka in Medaram, as Bhadrakali in Warangal, as Brahamarambika in Sri Sailam, as Kanaka Durga and Maha Lakshmi in Vemulavada in Karimnagar and so forth. Outside of Telangana region, you can find many more holy shrines dedicated to goddess worship.

However, the goddess worshipped as ‘Bathukamma’ has a fascinating set of stories. ‘Bathuku’ and ‘Amma’ literally mean ‘Mother, be alive’, as an expression.  Various folk narratives about the roots of the festival circulate till date. A folk mythology story mentions references to the famous ‘Daksha Yagnam’ episode in the Shiva Puranam. Sati and Shiva arrive unwelcome to Daksha’s penance and are insulted. As a result she sacrifices herself. The women of Telangana believe she returns, year after year, as a blessing from nature in the form of various flowers across the land. Another popular story in the region is that of a king named Dharmangada and his queen Satyavathi. After many sons, who died at war, the couple prayed to the goddess for a daughter. Pleased with their prayers goddess Lakshmi incarnated as their daughter. As a girl she survived many mishaps and was named ‘Bathukamma’. Whatever the various narratives are, it marks another occasion to worship the divine goddess. She is prayed to as another Avataar of nature, as a bestower of good health and prosperity and as a giver of strength and courage to the women folk.

 

Bathukamma by World famous painter Thota Vaikuntham

The festival is exclusive to the Telangana region and is celebrated for all the nine days of Dusshera. On the moonless night of the Mahalaya Amavasya, ladies gather to make flower arrangements. Very specific flowers, with exceptional medication qualities as prescribed in Ayurveda and other ancient health manuals like Charaka Samhita, are picked and meticulously arranged on large plates made of wood or bamboo frames in an order. The main flowers used are ‘Gunugu’, ‘Thangedu’, ‘Banthi’ or marigolds, ‘Chaamanthi’ or chrysanthemums, ‘Taamara’ or the lotus, ‘Gummadi’ or Pumpkin flowers, ‘Dosakaya Puvvu’, ‘Gaddi Puvvu’ and ‘Vaama Puvvu’. These flowers are arranged in layers with a wide base, to make large pyramids or floral mountains. In ancient times, we have references to how these pyramids were made keeping certain prevalent esoteric practices of the devout Shakta cult in mind. They were simpler forms of Yantras dedicated to the goddess.

 

Bathukamma

These pyramids are called ‘Bathukamma’. She is now revered as an embodiment of the divine goddess. Once several pyramids are made, they are placed on a fresh Rangoli that the earth is decorated with. Lamps are lit around Bathukamma. Prayers are chanted, coconuts are broken and ritual fires are lit to sanctify the air around the ‘Bathukamma’. Amidst the fragrance of these flowers and incense, ladies dance around circumambulating these pyramids singing songs. “Bathukamma Bathukamma Uyyala, Bangaru Bathukamma Uyyala”, goes a famous song that roughly means “Swing to and fro with blessings, into our lives, oh golden mother goddess, in the form of Bathukamma”. 

 

These songs are sung from sunset till the early hours of the night. Then ‘Bathukamma’ is taken in a procession, mostly carried by women on their heads, to a nearby water body. She is immersed into the water with prayers. This ritual is followed for nine days of Dusshera. Special foods made from local agricultural produce of corn, jaggery, sesame seeds, cashew nuts, grams are prepared and offered to the goddess before partaking them among the ladies and devout. This rich festival, filled with fun, music and much celebration is one of the signature festivals of the Telangana region.

Under the Nizams of Deccan, the rulers always made sure this festival was celebrated with much communal harmony. Till date, the Bhagya Lakshmi temple at the foot of the famous Charminar in Hyderabad celebrates this festival. In times of flood with the Musa river overflowed causing much pandemonium in Hyderabad, the Nizam is said to have prayed to the goddess and floated a ‘Bathukamma’ into the river, after which is subsided to its normal course. This rich syncretic tradition of Ganga-Jamni Tehzeeb was followed for many decades.  There are numerous stories of a rich syncretic culture that the Telangana landscape is proud of. Several famous 20th century painters from the region like Sajid Bin Mohammad,Thota Vaikuntham, Kapu Rajaiah and Md Rustum have been inspired by this festival and featured it in their works. Next time you are around the Telangana region during Dusshera, take time out to witness a Bathukamma celebration when the goddess returns as flowers, to bless her devotees.

(Veejay Sai is an award-winning writer, editor and a culture critic. He writes extensively on Indian performing arts, cultural history, food and philosophy. He lives in New Delhi and can be reached at vs.veejaysai@gmail.com)

Images Courtesy : Narasimha Reddy, Parul Shah

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