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How is Bonalu Festival Celebrated?

Posted By ServDharm


Posted on July 04 2022

The Bonalu Festival is a traditional festival celebrated in the South Indian state of Telangana for close to a month. The celebrations mark a form of thanksgiving and tribute to Goddess Mahakali in various regional forms. Hindus believe that the goddess removes the sorrows and diseases of any individual who approach Her with utmost devotion. The festival is primarily celebrated every year in the twin cities of Secunderabad and Hyderabad although the rest of the state also celebrate the occasion with zeal and fanfare.

The festival is typically celebrated on Sundays in Ashada masam that is between July and August according to the Gregorian calendar. The word Bonalu originates from the Sanskrit word Bhojanalu that means a feast or a lavish meal in Telugu. Along with Yellamma, Maa Kali is worshipped in various other regional forms such as Masiamma, Nookalamma, Peddhamma and more.

Poojas and Offerings

Poojas are organized on each day of the festival to honour Goddess Kali. The poojas on the first and last days are said to be extra special and are carried out after fulfilling vows that have been undertaken. The Mother Goddess idols in the Kali temples across the state are offered bangles and sarees by women.

Women also wake up early and take a bath and wear new clothes. While ladies dress in traditional sarees along with matching accessories, teenage girls dress themselves in half-sarees and jewels to complement the attire.

Ladies prepare a feast of rice cooked with jaggery and milk or curd and water called bonam for the goddess. They put the bonam in a new brass or earthen pot decorated with neem leaves, vermilion and turmeric. They carry this pot over their heads to the shrines and offer it as prasad to the goddess. After this, the bonalu is shared among friends and relatives.

In some parts of the state, a non-vegetarian feast is also offered to Goddess Kali after the main bonalu offering. This is essentially the meat of a slaughtered rooster or goat. Toddy is also offered to the deity. Like the bonalu, the meat and wine are later shared among Her devotees.

Story Behind the Celebrations

Devotees of Maa Kali believe that the goddess makes a visit to her maternal home in the Ashada month. Her worshippers offer their devotion, respect and love to the deity through pots of favourite food of the deity, dance, sarees and bangles.  They welcome the goddess to Her home just like they welcome their own daughter who visits her house from her husband’s house.

Origin of Bonalu Festival

The origin of the Bonalu Festival can be traced back to 1813 when Hyderabad and Secunderabad were affected by plague. The disease claimed the lives of several thousands of people. A military battalion was sent from Hyderabad to Ujjain where they rendered their obeisance to the goddess in Her Mahakali temple in the town. They also prayed that if the people from the two cities were freed from from the epidemic, an idol of the goddess would be installed in Secunderabad.


Goddess Mahakali is said to have been touched by their devotion and immediately stopped the disease from spreading further in these two cities. The battalion returned to their base and kept their word. An idol of the deity was installed and bonalu was offered to her.

Pothuraju, Rangam and Ghatam

Hindu scriptures refer to Pothuraju as the brother of Mother Kali. He is represented as a man with a bare body and good physique. He wears a red coloured tightly draped dhoti and has turmeric and vermilion on his body and forehead. He also has bells tied on his anklets. Pothuraju leads the procession or palaharam bandi of women going to the temple. He is believed to be the initiator of the celebrations and leads the female dancers under the spell of the goddess. The brother of the goddess dances to the sounds from the drums played during the procession.

Rangam or performing the Oracle act takes place on the very next day of the actual festival in the morning. The Oracle is a woman who stands on an earthen pot and invokes the spirit of Goddess Kali into herself. She plays the role of a fortune teller and predicts what the year ahead has for devotees who ask her about their future.

Ghatam is a brass pot that is dressed like Maa Kali. This pot is carried by a priest who has turmeric smeared on his body and wearing the traditional dhoti. It is carried by him in a procession on all days of the festival and ends with immersing the ghatam in Nayapul. This procession is led by the ghatam of the Akkana Madanna temple where this ghatam is placed on top of an elephant followed by horses with models mounted on them representing Akkana and Madanna.

The festival celebrations typically commence at Golkonda Fort on the first day. The procession moves to the Balkampet Yellamma Temple in Balkampet and Ujjaini Mahakali Temple located in Secunderabad on the next Sunday. On the third day, the procession heads to the Matheswari temple of Lal Darwaza in Old City of Hyderabad and the Pochamma and Katta maisamma temple near Chilkalguda. The festival is also celebrated with pomp and gaiety in venues like Muthyalamma temple in Shah Ali Banda.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of devotees of the goddess visit the several shrines of the goddess in the state to seek Her blessings. Women participating in the procession to the temple and dancing with the Bonalu pot on their heads fall under a trance and it is believed that they are possessed by the aggressive spirit of the goddess. Followers of Maa Kali pour water on the feet of such ladies to placate them and give them thottelu or small artifacts made of colourful transparent paper and supported by bamboo sticks as a mark of respect.


Written by – Deepthi K



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