Traditional festivals of Telangana are colourful and full of zest making them best subject matters for photographers. Bonalu is one such festival which has all that a keen-eyed cameraman would love to capture and present before the world. For L Vidyasagar, senior photo officer at the International Crop Research Institute for the semi-arid crops (ICRISAT), publishing a coffee table book on festivals of Telangana has been a dream, since he took up photography as his profession.
Vidya, as he is known among his peer group, is actually an electrical engineer from the Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University and worked at the then Bharat Dynamics Limited and completed PG Diploma in management. He joined ICRISAT in June 1990 as a photographer. His love for Telangana landscape and culture helped him to portray the semi-arid region at its best.
His photographs of all the mandate millet crops of ICRISAT, earned him accolades not only from the CGIAR (consultative Group on International Agricultural Research) of international circles but also from the outside world. He received CGIAR award for best photography under a selection panel that included National Geographic.
However, he kept taking snaps of Telangana festivals during the weekends from 2012 with an aim to present them before the world either through an exhibition or a book. Some of his photographs have been published in Happenings, the official weekly magazine of ICRISAT, but Vidya was craving for more.
His work was abruptly stopped as he met with a freak accident in 2013. His spine got injured and he was bedridden for more than 24 months in a paralytic condition down his neck. But his efforts continued again from 2016 with his left part of his body improving. He was writing foot notes and captions for his book on Bonalu jatara all the while enquiring about financial assistance from the Telangana government which has the Telangana Rashtra Samithi at the helm of affairs. Down the line he realised that his physical and financial condition after months of hospitalisation won’t support his dream.
“Then I realised that I need to exhibit my work just at the time of Bonalu this year. A right time to present the other side of a photographer who had predominantly worked among farmers and millet crops,” Vidya said. While taking rough cuts of his yet to be published book, he started preparing for the exhibition. “My movements are even now restricted but I continued with my work. Added a few more photos in a contemporary atmosphere that would portray present day Telangana,” he says.
“A photo is worth a thousand words. With this motto I will take you on a tour of Bonalu, revealing the colour, the excitement, the energy and the unforgettable feel of the spectacle that unfolds on the streets of Hyderabad during the month-long worship and celebration. I also believe that photography can go a long way in preserving local cultures and traditions in a world that is changing at a pace beyond all comprehension. Using camera as a tool I want to popularise Telangana festival and identity of Telangana people,” he says.
Bonalu has three major jataras that cover Golconda, Lashkar and Lal Darwaja areas and is about offering Bonalu to mother goddess Durga a pot full of cooked rice, a portion of jaggery, sprinkled with turmeric and curd. It is basically a thanks-giving ceremony to the goddess for saving the children from seasonal diseases particularly at the time of heavy monsoon rains.
“The three jataras take place during weekends and that helped me to cover them for my book without affecting my regular office work,” Vidyasagar says. He would mingle with the crowds and take snaps mostly close-ups. “I like the red protruding tongue of the goddess. People ask me why, and then I tell them that the goddess has to mop up each drop of the blood of the Asura as he would survive even if a single drop falls on the ground,” explains Vidyasagar.
Finally the Telangana cultural Department accepted his proposal and provided him space in ICC Art Gallery at Ravindrabharati, a place that every artist in both the Telugu states dream to showcase their artistic endeavour. The timing was perfect as Bonalu had begun and festivity was in the air all over Telangana and even parts of Andhra Pradesh. With the state government keen on projecting hitherto neglected traditional festival of Telangana region, Vidya’s dream was finally realised and he exhibited his photographs at the exhibition.
Former IAS officer KV Ramanachary who inaugurated the three-day exhibition was so impressed by the work of the photographer that he was keen on helping Vidya to publish his book.
He was impressed by the explanation of Vidya about the importance of the festival, the goddess and her brother Potaraju who defeated the evil to save the world from demons.
“During Bonalu the colours are gaudy, the music is loud and the atmosphere is electric which has to be reflected in the photographs captured in a fraction of a second. Vidya has done a commendable job. I advised him to start working on his book, we will see how we can help him to publish a coffee table book,” Ramanachary said.
Unveiling his plans for publishing the book, Vidyasagar says that the book will be an introduction to less known but grand festival in Telangana. The best aspect of his yet to be published book will be recent day Bonalu, keeping alive of old tradition. “This is an effort showcasing the unique worship of the mother Goddess Durga, one of the oldest surviving Hindu traditional folk festivals in Hitechcity of Hyderabad,” he said.