Member of BJP, Dattatreya participating in the Bonalu Festival

A festival of offerings and Sacrifice to a Goddess

To punish the evil and protect the good, the 'mother almighty' has manifested herself in different forms with different names such as Durga, Kali, Bhavani, Saraswathi, Parvathi, Maisamma, Peddamma and Chamundi. These are only some of forms the 'holy mother' adopted to suppress the wicked and maintain social justice. Names may be many but the spirit, that of the mother, is one.

Member of BJP, Dattatreya participating in the Bonalu Festival

Adi Shakthi, as she is also known, is considered to be the supreme and origin of all gods and goddesses, is worshipped in the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad in many forms like Maisamma, Pochamma, Nalla Pochamma, Bhavani Ellama and Mahankali.

Each year in the Telugu calendar month of Aashaada, the goddess is worshipped with pomp and piety. These celebrations are locally known as Bonalu in twin Cities.

Popular belief goes that a day for a human being is 24 hours, but for the goddess, an entire year of 365 days is a day! Hence the annual worship, which is deemed a daily worship for her.

Member of BJP, Dattatreya participating in the Bonalu Festival

The Bonalu celebrations are spread over three Sundays and Decorated Devi statue in the Bonalu Festival over multiple venues. The first occasion falls on the first Sunday of Aashaada at the temple at Golconda fort. The second Sunday, at Ujjain Mahankali in Secunderabad, and the third Sunday, at the Matheswari temple of Laldarwaja in old city of Hyderabad. Apart from this, there are around forty plus Matheswari temples all over the twin Cities big and small, where Bonalu celebrations are performed with much piety.

The worship of Bonalu also known as Aashaada Koluvu or Jaathara in the Telangana area is believed to protect society form various contagious diseases usually prevalent during monsoon, and bestow mankind with bountiful health and longevity.

The southern state of Andhra Pradesh has temples devoted to other powerful forms of the goddess such as Jagadamba (Alampur), Saraswathi (Basara) and Kanaka Durga (Vijayawada). We look at the history behind some of the temples within the vicinity of the twin cities.

Bonalu - Darbar Maisamma Temple

Member of BJP, Dattatreya participating in the Bonalu Festival

Many poets and scholars have hailed 'Darbar Maisamma' to be the supreme power – the omnipotent, the eternal, the bestower of health, wealth and supreme happiness. 'Mother Maisamma' is revered with due respect and devotion.

Member of BJP, Dattatreya participating in the Bonalu Festival

As the Maisamma temple is situated on the path leading to the Darbar of Sultan of Golkonda, the temple came to be addressed as Darbar Maisamma temple. Much before the rule of Quli Qutb Shahi kings, during the era of Hindu Rajas, the goddess Maheswariamma had manifested herself here and became popular as Maisamma.

She was even worshipped by the well-known Maratha King Chatrapathi Shivaji, the Minister brothers Akkanna, Madanna and Kancherla Gopanna of Bhadrachalam.

Bonalu - Ujjaini Mahankali temple

This temple in Secunderabad was built in 1815 by Suriti Appayya, a resident of Secunderabad. It so happened that he had to move to Ujjain of Madhya Pradesh on military duty and witnessed the death of thousands who succumbed to Cholera in the year 1813. He prayed to the goddess Mahakali of Ujjain and offered an oath that he would build a temple for her at Secunderabad in case cholera came under control. His prayers were answered almost immediately and the disease was successfully contained. He then brought a wooden statue of Kali, and installed it in Secunderabad. This idol came to be known as Ujjaini Mahankali.

Later another idol by name Manikyala Devi was unearthed in a nearby well and was installed next to the former's.

The wooden statue of Mahankali was replaced in 1964 with a stone statue and consecrated.

Bonalu - Lal Darwaja Mahankali temple

Lal Darwaja Mahankali temple in the Bonalu Festival

This was built in 1907. Prime Minister of Nizam government Maharaja Kishan Prasad started the Bonalu festival from this temple. Even the Nawab of Nizam of those days Mir Mahboob Ali Khan used to offer his prayers at this temple.

This temple was reconsecrated in 1964 by the Jagadguru of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham.

Bonalu - Akkanna, Madanna Mahankali Temple

Akkanna, Madanna Mahankali temple in the Bonalu Festival

This was built way back in seventeenth century by Shri Akkanna, the Chief Minister, and Madanna, the Commander of Army in the court of Hasan Tanisha of Golkonda.

Akkanna, Madanna Mahankali temple in the Bonalu Festival

Goddess Kali was their family Goddess.

They would give their due respects to the goddess on their way to the court. After their passing away, the temple premises were temporarily used as the office of Dewan (a Minister). Later, an officer of the court Mir Anwar Ali took upon himself the task of renovation and bringing back the charm of the temple.

Bonalu - Nimboli Adda Mahankaili Temple

Nimboli Adda Mahankaili temple in the Bonalu Festival

This was built in Nimboliadda by Patel Jangalu Goud about too hundred years ago with a view to control a contagious disease that played havoc with the lives of residents of twin cities..

Goddess Kali had appeared in a dream and ordered Patel to build a temple in that area for the well being of population of that area. Taking this as an order, Patel lost no time in building this temple.

Other temples, namely in devotion to Mutyalamma (Mothi market), Maisamma (old Mothi market) and Pochamma, Nalla Pochamma, Darbar Maisamma (Isamia Bazar) were also built by him.

Today, Rajendra Patel Goud, a descendant of Patel Jangalu Goud, performs the Bonalu festival as the trustee of the temple.

Bonalu - Lal Bazar Mahakali Temple

Lal Bazaar, around two hundred years ago, was a forest with no habitation. 'Kalika devi' appeared in a dream of Perimakka and asked her to build a temple in this forest area.

A temple was built by Perimakka in the year 1800 and a statue of Mahankali was installed. Perimakka worshipped this deity throughout her lifetime with staunch devotion.

With her passing, this temple lost patronage for some time, but now the temple has regained its splendour. The annual Bonalu festivities are also performed today.

Apart from these temples, Bonalu is also performed in the temples of Nalla Pochamma in Mekala banda (built by the Yadava Kings), Mahankali Mateswari temple of Mirala Mandi (built during the Nizams' regime), Bela Matgalamma temple (built over two hundred and fifty year) in the old city, the Gowlipura Mahankali temple, and Uppuguda Mahankali temple in full jubilation and grandeur.

Bonalu - The Ghatam Procession

Ghatas in the Bonalu Festival

The beginning of Bonalu is marked by a procession of 'ghatalu' (plural of ghatam). Ghatalu, decorated and piled one over the other are daily taken out in a procession for a fortnight in the first half of Aashada.

The purpose of Ghatalu taken out in procession is to provide a symbolic 'darshan' of the 'Mother' to the old, infirm and disabled who cannot visit the temple on their own. Such people offer their prayers to these ghatalu right at their doorsteps, such offers of prayers are believed to be equal to a visit to one of the temples. Thus the objective of providing access to god to one and all for cleansing of their sins is achieved.

Ghatas in the Bonalu Festival

The ghatalu are carried only by the members of certain families established have this tradition in their families and others are not eligible.

A Ghatam is a copper vessel. They are placed one over the other and bound by bamboo sticks and decorated with flowers. Neem leaves, considered to be sacred and dear to the Goddess, are placed on the pile of ghatalu. The center of the pile is decorated with a mask of face of Goddess made of gold or silver. The pile itself is balanced precariously on the head of a devotee during the procession to the temple. These devotees lead a life of celibacy and abstain themselves from unholy behaviour during the entire festival season. The ghatam procession is taken out in the vicinity of each temple.

At the climax of this procession, an Anakatta is performed, which, it is believed, establishes a barrier to the evil and demonic forces and demons.

Bonalu - Decorated Carts or Palaharapu Band

Potharaju in the Bonalu Festival

These are highly decorated carts made of light wood and drawn by decked up rams. Statues of the goddess are placed in these carts and Potharaju leads the procession lashing himself with a whip.

Dole Dance in the Bonalu Festival

As the carts approach the temple Potharaju takes the reins from around a ram's neck and holding the rein with his teeth, starts dragging the cart while walking on his knees, to the sanctorum.

Ladies carry Bonalu on their heads in earthen or brass pots contain Pongal - a delicious dish made from milk, rice and molasses. The pots are smeared with vermilion and turmeric. The ladies, clad in the best of their clothes, offer this Pongal to the goddess. The beauty of the situation is to be experienced – it cannot be expressed in words.

Bonalu - Rangam

Rangam – Oracle – is performed the day after Bonalu at the main temples.

During a seance, a spinster possessed by the goddess, stands on a wet clay pot holding a tanpura (a musical accompaniment) answers various questions posed by devotees.

This year (2000), Ms. Swarnalatha at Ujjaini Mahankali temple predicted good rains, coexisting of the people and expressed satisfaction that the goddess was pleased with the offerings of the devotees.

On the days of Bonalu, all vehicular traffic is managed to facilitate the movement of devotees through various temples.