BATHKAMMA-The unique festival of flowers in Telangana
The months of September and October are the most festive months for Telaganaites. There are two major festivals celebrated during these months and at least 15 days before and after filled with the aura of great festivity and happy moods of family reunions. One of the festivals is Bathukamma and the other is Dusshera (known as Vijaya dashami and Dusshera etc, this is a popular festival across the nation ).
However, Batukamma is unique to Telangana region and it is undoubtedly an icon of cultural identity for Telanganites. This festival is not celebrated else where, though there are some known instances of festivals celebrated in association with water and flowers, none of them resemble this one.
Batukamma comes during the latter half of monsoon, much before the onset of winter. The monsoon rains would have brought plenty of water into the ‘cheruvulu’ (fresh water ponds that are a major source of irrigation through out Telangana) and the wild flowers bloom in various vibrant colors all across the uncultivated and barren plains of the region. The most abundant of these are the ‘gunuka poolu’ and ‘tangedi poolu’. There are other flowers too like the banti, chemanti, nandi-vardhanam etc. The ‘shilpakka pandlu’ (or ‘sitpala pandlu’) are another great attraction of these barren lands during this season. This custard apple (‘seeta phalamu’ in text book language) is a great tasting fruit that grows in the wild with little or no water and is often called the poor man’s apple. Then there is corn (jonna and mokka jonna) waiting to be harvested. Amidst these, Batukamma is celebrated by the women folk of Telangana, heralding the beauty of nature in vibrant colors of multitudinous flowers.
The festival begins a week before the grand ‘saddula Batukamma’ (the grand finale of the Batukamma festival) which is two days before Dassera. The women folk normally get back to their parents’ homes from their in-laws and breathe the fresh air of freedom to celebrate the colors of flowers. For one whole week they make small ‘Batukammas’, play around them every evening and immerse them in a near by water pond. Then the last day is the most fascinating. On that day the men folk of the house go into the wild plains and gather the flowers like gunuka and tangedi. They bring home bagfuls of these flowers and the entire house hold sits down to make the big ‘Batukamma’. The flowers are carefully arranged row after row in a brass plate (called taambalam) in circular rows and in alternate colors. The Batukamma grows in size and the bigger it is the better. The white gunuka flowers are colored using water paints and Batukamma gets colorful circular layers of them along with tangedi in between. Then it placed in front of the deity of the home and prayed.
As evening approaches the womenfolk dress colorfully with the best of their attire and put on lot of ornaments and place the Batukamma in their ‘vaakili’ (court yard). The women of neighborhood also join with their own “Batukammalu” and all of them gather in a large circle around it. They sing songs by going around it building a beautiful human circle of unity, love, sisterhood. They all sing in chorus after a lead singer starts off and the rhythms of the folklore songs reverberate in the neighborhood sounding the uniqueness of Telangana cultural identity.
After playing around the “Batukammalu”, before the onset of dusk, the women folk carry them on their heads and go as a procession towards a bigger water lake of the village or town. The procession is extremely colorful with the decorations of women and the “Batukammalu”. Songs of folklore are sung in chorus throughout the procession and the streets resonate with them. Finally when they reach the water pond the “Batukammalu” are slowly immersed into water after some more playing and singing. Then they share the ‘maleeda’ (a dessert made with sugar or raw sugar and corn bread) sweets amongst the family members and neighborhood folks. They return back to their homes with empty ‘taambaalam’ singing songs in praise of Batukamma. The songs of Batukamma echo in the streets until late night during thie entire week.
Why is Batukamma celebrated? There are several legends around it. One of the prominent is that of a girl who committed suicide due to atrocities of a feudal land lord and then she was blessed by the people of the village to live longer a happier life (Batukamma means live). The other one is also about a girl who ends her life but due to family disturbances. However it is a festival associated with womenfolk and them remembering the girl who ended her life. They pray to mother goddess Gowri that they should not face any difficulties and that their husbands live longer and their families be prosperous.
On the hand, Batukamma is a great celebration of preservation of nature’s harmony. It is the season of blooming flowers and overflowing water ponds, that Batukamma comes in and it celebrates the inherent relationship between earth, water and the human beings. During the whole preceding week, women make ‘boddemma’ (a deity of Gowri – mother Durga – made with earthly mud) along with Batukamma and immerse it in the pond. This helps reinforce the ponds and helps it retain more water. The flowers used in Batukamma have a great quality of purifying water (and one of them is now being heralded as a medicine to cancer) and such flowers when immersed in abundance into the pond have the effect of cleansing the water and making the environment much better. In times where the fresh water ponds are gradually diminishing and dwindling away it is indeed a pride of Telangana that its womenfolk (with mostly agrarian background) inherently know how to make them better by celebrating the beauty of nature. It is something we need to be indeed proud of.
Even across the world such festivals that involve flowers and fresh water are a rarity. There are river-based festivals known, but this one is definitely unique to Telangana. It serves multiple purposes– it heralds the beauty of nature, collective spirit of Telangana people, the indomitable spirit of women folks and also the scientific approach of the agrarian people towards preserving the resources of nature in a celebrative way. That’s why Batukamma is the icon of cultural identity of Telangana!
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