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