Bathukamma: Telangana Identity and a Universal Message

– Kalvakuntla Kavitha

Festivals, all across the world, serve as reinforcements of cultural identities. The primary identity of a society is reflected in the ethos that it celebrates in forms of festivals. These ethos, which have been around for centuries signifies seasons such as harvest, spring, summer (Makar Sankranti, Pongal, Lohri, Bihu in January, Vaisakhi, Onam) etc.

One can almost gauge the primary ethos of a society from what it celebrates and in this sense, Bathukamma (festival of flowers) the primary cultural festival of flowers stands at a unique position in Telangana, a new state which formed after generations of incessant struggles. Not only does Bathukamma celebrate the cultural vivacity of Telangana, it encompasses ethos of different types of festivals.

The ethos of Bathukamma goes back to the times of immemorial and centuries of celebration of dry-land crops harvest admixed with the ethos of environmental conservation as it espouses the philosophy of “what comes from nature goes into nature.” Usually flowers are used for worshiping. But the uniqueness of this festival, flowers are worshiped.

Bathukamma the word is conjugation of Bathuku and Ammameaning, Mother (Amma) Life (Bathuku) or Mother Aliveness. The protector of life and its journey is personified as the mother. Hence, Mother Life or Bathukamma is celebrated. Its manifestation is in the form of Bathukamma, a conical shaped, concentrically arranged flower mound. Flowers of Celosia, Cassia, Marigold, Chrysanthemum, Luffa, Pumpkin plants flowers and other flowers that are indigenous to Telangana are integral part in making a Bathukamma.

The Bathukamma is celebrated nine days during Navratris (nav=nine, ratri=nights), starting on new-moon day till the eight day of the Lunar calendar, that generally falls in the month of October. A Significance of this timing is that by this time of the year, the otherwise usually semi-arid region of Telangana receives rainfall, which renders the landscape lush and green. There is water in the rivers and canals as they flow into the tanks which in their own turn nurture the farms in the rural hinterlands. The re-invigorated landscape, the prospect of prosperity to the farmers, sufficiency of the food and water all combine to imbue the people with a festive and joyous disposition. Bathukamma naturalism is expressed in the festivities of the harvest season, especially dry land crops, as well as the celebration of the environment.

Another aspect of Bathukamma is the spirit of community and social harmony that it incorporates. The rituals and symbolisms of the festival enshrine the ethos of gender equality and mutual respect along with a harmonious balance between all castes and social groups living in the community. During Bathukamma Navaratri, every day for all nine days, early in the morning men and boys of a household would go out into the wilds to get various flowers. The women tend the flowers and trim the stems according the size of the Bathukamma they are planning for that day. Fathers or brothers go to their sister’s place (in-laws place) to bring them home for the ten-day celebration and to reunite with old friends and family. The whole family sits together to weave together the flowers to prepare the Bathukamma is a creative and inclusive activity.

The vivacity of the celebrations peak as the sunset approaches. All the women wearing traditional attire, carry their Bathukamma to the streets, which are then adorned and decorated with the Bathukammas prepared by each family. All the women in the community bring Bathukamma to a ground where these Bathukammas are placed and women form circles, move sideways clapping rhythmically in a unique dance form while singing the songs of lullaby – which are called as Uyyala Patalu. These songs have been composed and sung by the women for centuries and reflect the history, heritage, oral traditions of the land which are handed down from generation to generation, while each generation adds its own flavor to them to produce a synthesis between the ancient traditions and the zeitgeist (spirit of times).
Hours later of songs and dance, the Bathukamma are carried to nearest water pond, or canal and immersed in the waters which is symbolic of coming a full circle of life, seasons and times.

This festival is true symbol of unity in diversity. The allegory of Bathukamma flowers represent the strata of the society, where all people – rich and poor, young and old, irrespective of their caste come together for a collective Bathukamma singing and dancing.A While circling the Bathukamma, the elbow of a woman touches the others and thus the next one get the cue of the rhythm and the movement of encircling. This touch creates a feeling of sisterhood and removes the barriers of class differences and strengthens relationship.

Bathukamma, for ages, has imbibed a sense of unity and cooperation, provided a thread of harmonious existence to the society of Telangana. Indeed, it is owing to the cultural expressions such as Bathukamma, which is celebrated by all castes and religious groups together, that Telangana has the privilege to sustain a socially harmonious and peaceful structure.

Various flowers in Bathukamma symbolizes the true spirit of Unity in Diversity. The brilliant, vibrant and colorful Bathukamma gives us the message of beauty of being united, especially to the present times, where there is a greater distress in the human society due to differences.It carries a wider message to the world one of liberty, harmony and environmental stewardship.

The beauty of peaceful coexistence among various ethnic groups is symbolized in Bathukamma itself and its tradition of celebration. The world celebrates the festival of colors, festival of lights and, now it is time for Festival of Flowers.