As large processions of women devotees bearing offerings of rice, jaggery, curd and neem leaves in decorated pots atop their heads made their way to the temple, the Potharajus pranced around menacingly showing off their moves and clearing the way for the swaying oracle.
Watching apprehensively from the sidelines, one couldn’t help but wonder what she’d predict this year. That this heady abandon and reckless joy brought about by Bonalu will be short-lived? That we may be witnessing the careless ushering in of a third bout of ‘coronalu’ instead? Well, turns out, these nervous thoughts are the bane of the pragmatic few. The devotees are riding high on adrenaline and happy hormones, bolstered by ample doses of good faith: “We’re all fully vaccinated. What’s the problem? We have no fear of the virus anymore,” says a very confident K Venkat, a resident of General Bazar who’s attending the festivities with his entire family. None of them are masked; not even the elderly or the kids. Incidentally, the pujaris and organsiers aren’t all that worried either. A senior temple official says, “Since people had missed the festivities last year, there is a sense of eagerness to be a part of it this time. However, the number of devotees were lesser due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Normally, 3-5 lakh devotees visit the temple every year to offer bonam. This year, we witnessed only around 1.5 lakh visitors.”
Little mercies! But is that enough to ward off a new outbreak? Only time will tell.