October 20, 2006

Bathkamma, Bathkamma uyyalo...

There are ever so many minor and major festivals in India. Dasara (also spelt Dussehra) is celebrated differently in different parts of India. I write about a lesser-known festival called the Bathkamma panduga, celebrated just before Dasara in the Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh.

This festival is a 9-day, all-women affair. Girls and women arrange flowers on a plate, stacking circular rows of different varieties of flowers available during the season, on top of which is placed some turmeric and a piece of dry coconut. This is worshipped as Bathukamma. Women stand in a circle and sing songs as they go around the colourful Bathukammas placed in the centre, clapping and dancing rhythmically. On the final day, they gather at temples next to a pond or a lake, again sing and dance, after which they put the Bathukammas in the water.

One legend is that King Daksha Prajapati, father of Sati (Lord Shiva’s first wife) performed a yagna to which he did not invite Lord Shiva. Sati felt insulted and burnt herself. During the Bathukamma festival, women pray asking her to come back to life (Bathukamma literally means 'come back to life, mother).

My own childhood memory of Bathukamma festival is of an enthusiastic grandmother getting together girls from the locality and literally ordering them to dance around as many Bathukammas as could be gathered. They sang folksy songs, which usually began with the words Bathukamma, Bathukamma uyyalo... I watched them, even as my grandmother encouraged the girls to sing ‘one more song’ and then ‘one more’, and then, "don’t you know this song?...we used to sing it when we were children", and so on.

I invariably shied away from the place if anyone asked me to participate. But I went back for the delicious prasadams distributed after the dance. What ingredients those prasadams were made of, I really don’t know (subject of discussion with grandmother on my next trip). But they would put an Almond House or a Dadu’s* to shame!

This year, with a new interest in this colourful festival, I went to Bhadrakali temple in Warangal to see the splendour of Bathukamma. Neatly dressed in silk sarees, wearing lots of jewellery, flowers in their hair, Bathukammas in their hands or on their heads, groups of women came, colour after vibrant colour. They sang with belief; prayed sincerely and naturally, unmindful that the greens and blues, the mustards and maroons they splashed around could be a piece of the culture cake I was trying to taste...

I returned to my world, my Kodak happy and full of bright hues, but with questions in my mind....I grew up on that very land, yet why is that I cannot have the kind of faith those women have? Why am I incapable of singing and dancing like them? Yet, why do I cling on...why can’t I just let go? In fact, why does it sometimes seem like I belong nowhere?

*Famous sweet shops in Hyderabad


venkat said...

It's good..

John Bosco said...

Bathkamma is one of the richest religious and cultural traditions of the people of Warangal. I grew up in Kazipet and my chilhood memories of neighbourhood celebrating Bathkamma cannot be erased. I am a Roman Catholic but this festive season of Bathkamma has left an impact of love, admiration and respect for all faiths.
It used to be a great delight to see people in large processions with decorations of Bathkammas each overseeding the other, women and young girls clapping and singing the rythmic folk chants around in small circles. People from all the villages converged at Waddepally and at Hanamakonda.

Sadhana Ramchander said...

Very true. Thanks for this comment. Do visit again.

John Bosco said...

Thanks Sadhana! for your reply.
I would be interested more in knowing
about Bathkamma and if there are any attempts to protect this heritage. I now live in France for the 20 last years and everytime when I come to India to visit my family in Hyderabad and Kazipet, I find the place so changed. Even the lifestyles of the people had changed to a graet extent and that reflects the changing India. If that is so then there is a threat that these festivals which we adore
as our cultural identity may be extinguished in no time. What do you think about that?

Sadhana Ramchander said...

Bathkamma festival is still celebrated with enthusiasm. So are all the other festivals.

Yes, life is changing...it is inevitable, but like everywhere else, there is good and bad about the change.

Anonymous said...

John, yes this bathukamma is alive and thriving well even in the US of A. Like Sadhana there are others who might have been silent observers during their childhood but the distance from their motherland in their adult life had made these celebrations possible in their adopted lands. http://www.indusladies.com/forums/general-discussions-usa-and-canada/12922-bathukamma-festival-during-navaratri-3.html