Navratri festivals, especially the Sharad Navaratri that leads to the festival of Dussehra, usually falls in the month of October. Navratri is celebrated across India in its own unique ways. Some of them are popular like Dandiya Raas of Gujarat. And Durga Puja of Bengal. Other celebrations well known across the region are like fasting in Northern parts of the country. Celebrations like Golu in Tamil Nadu and Bathukamma festival in Telangana region are still known only in the small regions that they are celebrated in.
As the state of Telangana is taking birth, its festivals will also start getting prominence. Awareness about them is being created outside the districts. This year I witnessed Bathukamma at Tank Bund in Hyderabad. Incidentally, it was coupled with a display of strong Telangana identity and was lead by the daughter of a prominent Telangana leader.
It was a riot of celebration with many tribal dancers performing their traditional dance forms. Big and small mounds of flowers dominated the scene and everything else happened around it. The biggest mound was on top of a tempo that towered over the crowds and the smallest ones were on steel plates. Most of the mounds were made with fresh flowers and easily available marigold dominating. But there were those made of paper flowers as well.
Women at Bathukamma
Women are the shining stars of Bathukamma festival. Dressed in their bright silk saris and wearing all their fineries with fresh flowers in their hair, they carried the Bathukamma on their heads. They would keep her anywhere around another bunch of Bathukammas and join the circle of women dancing around it. The dance was simple, three claps and move in the circle along with traditional songs that typically talk about the everyday situations women face at home. A friend explained a song that is sung by a woman when her brother visits her. Seeking permission from everyone in her in-laws family to visit her parents. They dance around and then leave the Bathukamma in a nearby waterbody.
Lambada women with their colorful dresses and heavy silver jewelry stood out. They were favorites with the photographers. Another dancer with exquisite makeup ran through the crowd. Stopping only to pose for the pictures and to hand over her card that told that she (or was it a He) was a dancer in Telugu. The only English line that I could read was Google Nookaji, now is this not one innovative way to promote oneself.
Video of Bathukamma Festival at Hyderabad
Legends of Bathukamma
I heard many different legends around the festival and what Bathukamma is. Literally, it means Oh Mother, Live. What is common across all legends is that the mother referred here is Goddess Parvati who is reigning deity of these nine nights. The first legend goes back to the Shiva-Parvati’s marriage. Where Parvati married Shiva against the wishes of her father. Her father insulted Shiva by not inviting him to an important yagna he was performing. And Parvati not accepting her husband’s insult jumps into the fire. It is believed she remained in the fire for these 9 days. Women put flowers all around the fire to cool her and say Bathukamma. That is saying Oh Mother, please live on.
Seeking blessings of Shakti
Since then they put flowers on a mound to symbolize Gauri in the burning fire. And on the last day, they let her go into the water as the ordeal gets over. Another legend is that Gauri is the daughter of mountains. Hence the mound represents the mountain and she herself is put on top of the mound as a piece of dry turmeric. Singing and dancing around her are done to seek her blessings as Shakti. The scientific explanation to this festival says that since this comes post-monsoon, the flower petals in the water bodies clean the water and make it better for consumption. This is, of course, assuming that only natural flowers are used. And maybe there were specific flowers too meant to be used.
We met a group of youngsters wearing Red T-Shirts that said Telangana Radio. They were interviewing people on the spot with a branded mike in their hands. To me, they were the symbol of entrepreneurs waiting to capture the moment. Incidentally, I did not find any food stalls coming up for such a large gathering that was in the mood for festivity and I assume would have liked some food.
For more details, see this Bathukamma Video by Children of CAMP. Children As Media Producers, UNICEF and UOH initiative.
As always, India never ceases to amaze me.