Festivals of Telangana – Bonalu Festival

Bonalu is a Hindu Festival where Goddess Mahakali is worshiped. It is as an annual festival celebrated in Hyderabad and Secunderabad, the twin cities and other parts of Telangana State. It is celebrated in July/August, the month of Ashada Masam (according to Telugu calendar) which is considered as a thanksgiving to the Goddess for the fulfillment of vows. The word Bonam literally means “meal” in Telugu which is an offering to the Mother Goddess. Women prepare rice which is cooked with jaggery and milk in a new earthen pot or brass pot which is decorated with neem leaves, vermilion and turmeric. Women carry these pots on their heads with lit lamp on top of the Pot and make an offering of Bonam which includes Bangles and Saree to the Mother Goddess at Temples.

We shot this during one of our Photowalks in Hyderabad.

In the year 1813, plague disease broke out and took away many lives of thousands of people in the twin cities. A military battalion from Hyderabad was posted to Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh, when they got to know the situation in the cities, they prayed to the Mother Goddess in Mahankaal Temple in Ujjain to kill the plague. If their prayers were heard, they had decided to install the idol of Mahankaali back in Secunderabad. It is believed by the devotees that Mahankaali destroyed the disease and when the military battalion returned to the city, they installed an idol of Mother Goddess by offering Bonalu to her. Since then it has become a tradition and it is still followed by the people of the State.

Bonalu is celebrated in different parts of the city. The celebrations start at the Golconda Fort in Hyderabad on the first Sunday of Aashadham. On the second Sunday at Balkampet Yellamma temple in Balkampet and Secunderabad’s Ujjaini Mahakali Temple and on the third Sunday at Lal Darwaza, Old city of Hyderabad’s Matheswari temple, Muthyalamma temple in Shah Ali Banda and in Haribowli’s Akkanna Madanna temple are few main temples where Bonalu is celebrated. Lakhs of devotees gather temples to worship Mahankali every year.

Women dress up in traditional Saris along with jewels and other accessories whereas the teenage girls dress up bringing out the beauty of the attire by wearing traditional Half- Saris combining with jewels. It is believed that women carrying Bonalu posses the spirit of Mother Goddess and when they approach temple, people pour water on their feet to pacify the spirit, as believed to be aggressive by nature.

Bonalu is a festival of divine offering to Mother Goddess and families also share these offerings with other family members and guests. After the great offering, the non-vegetarian family feasts. Usually its the meat of goat or a chicken which is offered ceremonially (Bali in Telugu) to Mother Goddess which is considered sacred and alcohol offering is also a must tradition.

Rangam or Performing the Oracle is held the next morning of the festival. A women is invoked Goddess Mahankaali onto herself. She foretells the next year ahead when the devotees ask information about the future. This happens before the procession takes place. Presently it is the 6th generation of the oracle teller.

Mother Goddess is worshipped in many regional forms Pochamma, Peddhamma, Mysamma, Poleramma, Nookalamma, Yellamma.

Here is a collection of pictures from Bonalu around Charminar, which is the most grand and happens on the last day.

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Devotees offer Thottelu to the Mother Goddess. These are small colorful paper structures supported by sticks which are offered as mark of respect.

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Pothuraju is considered the brother of Mother Goddess. He is described in the procession as a muscular, bare-bodied man wearing a small tightly draped red dhoti with bells on his ankles, greased with turmeric on his body and vermilion on his forehead. Pothuraju dances to the loud drums close to Palaharam Bandi, the procession. He lashes whips on himself, has neem leaves tied around his waists.

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Ghatam is a copper pot which is decorated in the form of Mother Goddess and carried by a priest, dressed up in a traditional dhoti. His body is completely coated in turmeric. The Ghatam is taken as a procession from first day of the festival to the last day when it is immersed in water, which concludes the festival. The Ghatam is escorted by drums. It is followed after Rangam.

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Tips for Photographers
1. Be quick and agile, or else you will miss the moments.
2. Don’t stand only at one places, you will get the same kind of pictures – move around for better opportunities.
3. Since the festival happens during the rainy season, do carry a water proof for your camera.
4. Be early and look for the locations.
5. Prepare yourself on what you want to shoot and carry your lenses accordingly.


Thank you for reading this post. Hope you liked spending time here. I will be back again with another interesting place.

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This post is written by Saurabh Chatterjee. He is a travel photographer and a photography trainer.
He strives to ‘make every camera-owner a great photographer through his Photography workshops and Photo Tours and Photowalks..

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