Our Common Heritage
Telangana's Natural Heritage
The ethos of Bathukamma goes back to the times immemorial and centuries of celebration of dry-land crops harvest admixed with the ethos of environmental conservation. The festival espouses the philosophy of “what comes from nature goes into nature.” Bathukamma – the word is a conjugation of ‘Bathuku’ and ‘Amma’ – meaning, Mother (Amma) Life (Bathuku) or “Mother of life”. Hence, the protector of life and its journey is personified as the mother – celebrated as this festival each year.
We started organizing the Bathukamma festival with groups of women across the Telangana region. These groups of women would come together and prepare ornate stacks or mounds using flowers such as Celosia, Senna, Marigold, Lotus, Cucurbita, Cucumis etc. locally grown in the Telangana. This stack of flowers, artistically designed, is called a Bathukamma. During the days of the festival celebrations, people worship various gods and goddesses to celebrate the festival of Bathukamma with flowers. The first outcome of a such a festival is the feeling of unity in womanhood.
The Bathukamma is celebrated nine days during Navratris (nav=nine, ratri=nights), starting on new-moon day goes on until the eighth day of the Hindu Lunar calendar, that generally falls in the month of October. The significance of this timing is that by this time of the year, the otherwise usually semi-arid region of Telangana receives rainfall, which renders the landscape lush and green. There is water in the rivers and canals as they flow into the tanks which in their own turn nurture the farms in the rural hinterlands. The re-invigorated landscape, the prospect of prosperity to the farmers, sufficiency of the food and water all combine to imbue the people with a festive and joyous disposition.
Bathukamma’s naturalism is expressed in the festivities of the harvest season, especially dry land crops, as well as the celebration of the environment. With around nine to ten million women coming together to celebrate this festival each year in the state in a spirit of unity and bonhomie, there is a pervading sense of empowerment. In the festival of Bathukamma, it is the men who assist the women in preparing the floral decorations and gathering the flowers from various places in the countryside. The festival in itself is women-led and a symbol of assertion of womanhood that translates into positive challenging of gender norms in the society. Indeed, the cultural stimuli that this festival provides is immeasurable.
It sets the tone and readiness for greater change in other spheres of life in the collective minds of the people. At Telangana Jagruthi, when we started organizing Bathukamma at the mass level, we began to see an opportunity to utilize this culture vitality to improve other human development standards among the people of Telangana.
Therefore, we started setting up health camps and mobile clinics to detect medical ailments such as diabetes, high-blood-pressure, HIV, pulmonary disorders, even heart diseases among tens of thousands of people. Our intervention was not only limited to screening of diseases, but it included the treatment of many – free of cost.
This spurred the formation of a dedicated health wing in the Telangana Jagruthi organization that would tour remote villages and organize medical camps to detect and treat diseases among thousands of patients on an annual basis. We began to use this platform as a way to spread awareness about nutrition and healthy living habits, providing basic knowledge about women’s reproductive and sexual health, making available oral rehydration solutions, immunizations, and basic healthcare kits for children etc. And Indeed, this translated into better health outcomes for the people at large. The life expectancy at birth (one of the three main components of the Human Development Index) in Telangana has surpassed the national average. The patients would readily come to our mobile medical vans, because they trust us. Telangana Jagruthi is in line with their cultural sensitivities, Telangana Jagruthi sought cultural buy-in to pivot into other human development improvement interventions.
Today the cultural force of Bathumkamma has led, quite unexpectedly to even economic development and growth. Every year now, the government of Telangana celebrates Bathukamma as a state festival. This recognition to the age old festival given by the state after the formation of Telangana in 2014 has created a vibrant economic impetus around the festival. Each year the state government gifts sarees to one crore women in the state as a token of celebration and respect for womenhood. This gives employment to the power loom weavers at Sircilla, and generates upwards of INR 300 crores for the weavers as fixed demand for the weavers. This has led, in turn, to the transformation of a whole industry at the local level and spurred greater economic activity in the region – a cultural impetus leading to a multiplier effect on the economic front. A place where weavers were struggling with abject poverty, has become a centre of vibrant economic activity and increasing prosperity. Indeed, the positive effect rubs off on other aspects of life such as education, food and nutrition and health for the families living in Sircilla.
Similarly, this festival celebrated across the state an around the world in the Telugu diaspora has rejuvenated the spirits of the people and has revealed a fundamental principle of progress – that the secret sauce for growth and development is collective action rooted in the culture and imbued with a positive spirit of hope and vitality.