1. Bonalu or Mahankali bonalu is a festival of Goddess Mahakali a variation of Durga Matha.
2. It is an annual festival of Telangana celebrated in Twin Cities Hyderabad, Secunderabad and other parts of Telangana.
3. The festival is celebrated in the month of Ashada Masam which comes between July and August.
4. The word “Bonam” comes from the Telugu word Bojanam which means “a Meal” in Telugu.
Women prepare “Paayasam” a Telugu sweer in an earthen Pot adorned with Neem leaves, Turmeric, Vermilion and a lighted Diya on the top of the Pot and carry it on their heads and make offering to the Mother Goddess across the Temples.
5. The festival is considered as a thanksgiving ritual to the Goddess for fulfilling the vows of her devotees.
6. The Variation of the Goddess.
Bonalu involves the worship of Goddess Durga Maatha in her various forms namely Kaali, Mysamma, Pochamma, Yellamma, Pedamma, Dokkalamma, Ankalamma, Poleramma, Maremma, Nookalamma etc.
7. It is a very young festival.
Unlike the other Hindu festivals which were being celebrated since thousands of years, The Bonalu festival has started in 1813 in Hyderabad & Secunderabad.
8. The story behind the festival.
In 1817 a Plague disease broke out in Twin Cities of Hyderabad & Secunderabad taking thousands of lives. Earlier the dieties of Hindu gods were abolished by Muslim rulers. The locals prayed to the Mother Goddess in Mahankaal Temple of Ujjain saying that if people were saved from the epidemic they would install the idol of Mahankali back in their city.
The plague was eventually gone and It is believed by the devotees that goddess Durga/Mahankaali destroyed the disease. The Hindu deities were installed back in the temples and people started celebrating the festival every year since that year.
9. The Intention behind the celebration.
It is believed that the Goddess comes back to her maternal home during Ashada Maasam, so people come to see her and bring offerings of food to show their love and affection, just as they would prepare a special meal when their own daughters visit them.
10. The Tottelu, Food baskets gifted to the Goddess.
Every group of devotees offer a “Thotte”, a small colorful, paper structure supported by sticks as a mark of respect to the goddess.
11. The Tranced Women.
Some Tranced women dance to the rhythmic beats of drums with balancing pots on their heads in honour of the local Goddess. They foretell the year ahead when devotees ask about the future. This takes place before the procession is started.
12. Pothuraju, guardian of the realm.
Pothuraju is the brother of Mother Goddess and is represented in the festival by a well-built, bare-bodied man, wearing a small tightly draped red dhoti and bells on his ankles, and wearing turmeric on his body and vermilion on his forehead. He dances to resounding drums.
He is considered the initiator of the festivities and the protector of the community. He leads the tranced female dancers who are under spell of the Mother Goddess to the temple, with lashing whips and emerald neem leaves (margosa) tied around their waists, accompanied by trumpets and drums.
13. The role of Food.
Food plays a major part in the festival. From the snacks sold on road in form of Prasadam to the animals sacrificed to the goddess which are later enjoyed by the families as a non vegetarian meal. It is basically a celebration of gratitude and food for the Telangana locals.