Floored by Flowers

Bathukamma is a unique floral festival celebrated mostly by women and young girls in Telangana during Navarathri. During these nine days, women worship the ‘life-giver’ Bathukamma, and seek her blessings for prosperity. Three elements that form a staple part of the festivities are colours, flowers and water. Men in the house gather flowers and women create Bathukamma as a beautiful flower stack, using different seasonal flowers in seven concentric layers, to resemble a temple gopuram. The goddess is made of flowers, and created every year, which signifies both life and eternity in its colours as well as impermanence. It is immersed in the local water body on Ashwayuja Ashtami that falls two days before Dussehra. The Government of Telangana has declared the Bathukamma festival as Telangana’s state festival.  A photo feature with photos by Chandrasekhar Singh M and text by Shillpi A Singh; it was first published in TruJetter.

The nine-day long Bathukamma festival begins on Petramavasya or Mahalaya Amavasya in the month of Bhadrapadam. During these nine days, women worship the nine Bathukammas. The festivities culminate on Pedda Bathukamma or Ashwayuja Ashtami that falls two days before Dussehra. Women walk with their Bathukammas, place it on the banks of the river, pond or lake, sing and dance before immersing them. The festival is a celebration of womanhood, but men also participate in it with equal fervour. Mostly, it is the menfolk who gather flowers and also carry the Bathukamma on their heads before leaving it into the water body as the women watch Bathukammas flow away. The flowers used for making Bathukamma work as purifiers for water bodies and help in ecological conservation. 
The marketplace is abuzz with flowers, sellers and buyers during this time of the year. A seller sits with a heap of flowers called Gunugu, the common name for Silver Cock’s comb or Celosia agrentea. Like other flowers used in preparing Bathukamma, this too has unique medicinal values. 
Preparing a Bathukamma is an art. The layers of the flower are arranged in the shape of a pyramid with a lotus or pumpkin flower on top of the stack along with Gouramma (a symbolic idol of Gowri made of turmeric). The lotus flower used in Bathukamma represents prosperity. 
Bathukamma is made to represent a pyramid with seven layers of different flowers. The flowers that bloom in this season are used for Bathukamma, and are of different colours, variety, fragrance, and shapes. The riot of colours can be attributed to Gunugu, Ganneru and Kashirathnam in red, Beera, Chitti Chamanthi, and Thangedu in yellow, Gaddi Poolu, Kanakambaralu, and Banthi in orange, Challagutti, Malle, Lilly, and Pattukuchhu in white, Gulabi and Chandrakantha in pink, among many others.  

For those who are tired of shopping or collecting different varieties of flowers for the preparation of a traditional Bathukamma, or those who do not know how to make one, can buy a readymade one. The cost of a readymade Bathukamma depends on the number of flower layers and ranges from Rs 200 and Rs 2,500. 
The arrangement of seasonal flowers in the shape of a temple gopuram requires a deft handling of different shapes, hues, and varieties of flowers and an aesthetic sense to make a Bathukamma look nothing but a piece of art.  
For making a Bathukamma, flowers are arranged in seven concentric circles to form a pyramid on a round steel or brass plate with a small edge. Two pieces of thread are laid on the plate, perpendicular to each other, and passing over the centre of the plate. A ‘Vistharaku’ or a plate made of leaves is placed on the steel or brass plate. A layer of pumpkin leaves is spread over the ‘Vistharaku’, over which a layer of Thangedu, tiny yellow flowers with green buds and leaves and long stems, is placed and on top of it, Gunugu flowers are arranged radially. The hollow that is formed in the centre is called Bathukamma’s stomach, and it is kept full and filled with leaves and other flowers. The filling also makes the pyramid strong irrespective of its size. The subsequent layers/rows are arranged with Banthi and Chamanthi or any other colourful flower and even some artificially coloured flowers. On the top of the layer, a pumpkin flower or lotus is placed. Finally, the loose ends of the two threads are drawn up and tied at the top to hold the Bathukamma in position. 

In addition to the beautiful layering of flowers, Bathukamma festival is also about folk songs, a great vocal tradition handed down from generation to generation. In the evenings and on the last day, women dressed in their traditional finery assemble at an open ground, keep their Bathukammas in a circle and dance around it while singing soul-stirring Bathukamma folk songs. Their moves are beautifully syncronized with clapping in between that makes for a splendid sight. The older Bathukamma songs depicted people’s problems whereas the current songs are about Telangana culture and traditions.

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