Bonalu Bonanza: Ariselu To Biryani, Food For A Festive Feast
Image Credit: Flickr/Mrudula Arun

COME Ashada (the months of July-August) and the monsoon, in Telangana, it is time for Bonalu, a festival that celebrates Mahakali and seeks the goddess’ protection for the populace, against diseases and malign forces. The word "Bonalu" comes from the Telugu word for meal or feast. Needless to say, food performs a vital role in the festivities. 

Nowhere is this more evident than in conjunction with the highlight of the Bonalu festival: the Ghatam procession. A Ghatam is a decorated pot that is believed to contain the goddess' presence. It is carried by women who balance it on their heads, as they dance and move through the streets. The women are dressed in traditional attire, adorned with jewellery, and carry traditional puja items. They offer prayers and perform rhythmic movements to the beat of drums and music.

The offerings made during Bonalu include rice cooked with jaggery, curries, and specially prepared dishes. The food is usually placed in brass or earthen pots and offered to the goddess. Devotees also offer saris, bangles and other items to propitiate her and seek her blessings.

Apart from the religious aspect, Bonalu is also a celebration of culture and community. People come together, participate in processions, and enjoy traditional music and dance performances. They also, quite naturally, like to feast.

Among the dishes that are part of the festive spread, you’re likely to notice "Bonalu Biryani" or "Bonalu Pulao". It is often cooked in large quantities and distributed as prasad to devotees during the festival.

In addition to the biryani, other traditional Telugu dishes are prepared and offered including pulusu (tangy stew with tamarind, vegetables and spices), pappu (dal), vankaya perugu pachadi (yoghurt-based dish made with brinjal, curd and spices), ariselu (sweet delicacy made from rice flour and jaggery, usually deep-fried) and poornalu (sweet dumplings made with a filling of jaggery and coconut, covered in a rice flour-based dough and fried).

These are just a few examples, and the specific dishes may vary based on personal preferences. However, what is certain is that the preparing and sharing of delicious meals is an indelible part of the Bonalu festivities.