HYDERABAD: It was in early 2000, at a time when districts in Telangana region were struck by famine that artist-cum-photographer Bharat Bhushan started documenting something that would otherwise never come to the notice of anyone. The fact that women in Telangana region replaced natural flowers with paper ones due to lack of food and water to set up Bathukamma. For someone who is not from the region, it may seem like nothing. But this festival that connects women with nature is slowly losing its essence.
“There were quite a few things that were going on around that time where political disturbance and farmer suicides were the most gruesome. I started documenting the Bathukamma festival around that time, travelling extensively around the nine districts in Telangana,” shares Bharat Bhushan.
And today, after the state has become independent, Bathukamma has been declared the state festival of Telangana. With the festival only a week away, his collection of 30 pictures capturing it in those few years was inaugurated at Ravindra Bharati’s Kalabhavan by K Kavitha, member of parliament from TRS.
As native of Telangana, Bharat who hails from Warangal district has been exposed to the culture of Bathukamma since his childhood and the changes he noticed were quite significant. “This is essentially a women’s festival that happens during Dasara, where flowers like marigold, chrysanthemem are artistically set up. They cook nutritious food, dance around them and then the flowers are immersed in water. This, also to clean the water body as the flowers have components that act as a purifier,” explains Bharat.
With the decreasing levels of water bodies in the region, slowly the Bathukamma setup was dominated by paper flowers and even weeds. As the photographer saw the essence of the ritual dying in front of him, he decided to bring this changing trend to the fore through his pictures. “This festival doesn’t have much of a religious connection. Rather, it is a way of relinking women with water and nature. That was getting lost and I wanted people to know about it,” he elaborates.
After a friend told him about an upcoming meet which could lead to some potential investors to help him spread the word, Bharat decided to pitch his project at an upcoming seminar at ICRISAT. The idea received support from the delegates who had come to attend the seminar and he spent one year in hosting a travel exhibition. “This later became a documentary that had comments of people like Gaddar, well-known journalists, artists and others,” he informs adding that he had to choose from over a thousand pictures before zeroing down a select few.
Bharath efforts have now borne fruit as his photographs will be exhibited in nine districts of Telangana throughout the period of Dasara which is being organised by the Telangana Samskruthika Vedika.
“If you look at the statistics, the number of girls is declining rapidly. On that note, we have a number of programmes that talk about reducing female infanticide, educating girls and also raising awareness for violence against women. We are conducting a number of programmes and this is part of them,” explains C Ramesh, the coordinator of the exhibition.
Each of the pictures displayed have a story to tell –from how the Bathukamma is made, to the kind of flowers that are used, the ceremonies in a household to an entire village and the way they are dispersed.
“Women and Bathukamma have an intrinsic relationship and we wish to revive that by taking this exhibition around Telangana,” informs Ramesh.