HYDERABAD: It’s 7 am and a group of artistes, who are to perform as goddesses on the last day of Bonalu, are hustling to get dressed and do their makeup. One after the other, men enter a school building near the Akkanna Madanna Temple. They have come to the city from Vijayawada, to perform as the 30 different avatars of nine goddesses, apart from demons, in a grand procession celebrated as part of the Bonalu Jatara.
Don’t mistake them for Potharajus; they will soon don the looks of Kali, Ambika, Saraswati, Lakshmi, Parvati and Durga, which Banka Ranga Rao, the head of cosmetics and makeup, procession and performing artistes, calls ‘Shakti Veshalu’. “Our gods are myriad, so are their forms. We enact nine different goddesses in a total of 30 different avatars — each man dressed up to represent a particular form of the goddess. For instance, one in the form of grace, another furious, she who fights demonic spirits and so on,” says Ranga Rao as gets ready to help them dress up. “Time to mix the paints, we are already late,” he yells.
Obeying him, lead performer P Stalin, who is to play Kali, moves hastily to find makeup artist Lateef. “I was born a Christian. I am still a Christian. But you see, art has no religion. Every year, when I come here for the procession, I forget about everything and enter into a trance. This is only possible when I see a goddess in myself. I don’t know how I do it, but I do it,” says Stalin, as Lateef mixes the perfect shades of yellow on his wrist for his eye shadow.
Lateef gets down to business as he begins Stalin’s makeup, without referring to any photo of the goddess. “I am painting Kali. I don’t need to refer to a photo; I can recollect the images of Kali. I have not seen many goddesses at temples. I don’t know how I manage to get it painted,” says Lateef.
This time of the year is gruelling for these artistes — they don’t eat and it takes them 14 hours to dress up. Besides Bonalu, they also participate in Dasara and also jataras in AP, Telangana and Odisha. On Monday, around 40 artistes dressed up as gods and demons, and after hours of work, began the procession at the Akkanna Madanna Temple with grandiose and danced right up to the Mahankali Temple near Charminar.