The cattle festival is central to all rural communities. The cows are celebrated in a way that gladdens the heart, and one can sense gladdens the hearts of the cattle. A community that worships animals, that can see spirituality in the very cowdung that enriches its fields and plasters its houses, fashions the cowdung into an image of gavaramma and worships it.
Pedda Pandaga (Big Festival), in January, includes Bhogi, Sankaranti and Eddulu (bull) Pandaga and Dhooda (calf) Pandaga and this is the most important festival for the Telugu community. In villages the festivities extend over 4 days.
As soon as the month of the festival starts, people start putting beautiful muggus (rangolis) in the front of the house. These are decorated with flowers. Some women put a lit lamp in the middle, or some incense sticks. After school children scamper away in groups with small plastic covers to pluck flowers. This is the season of the yellow tangedu (Cassia auriculata) flowers, and the perennial lantanas are all along the railway bund and tank bunds. They come back with the bags full of colorful flowers which they or their mothers use the next day to colour the muggus beautifully.
Neighbours may demand handfuls of flowers from the children as they run home with their covers. Going to collect flowers in the afternoons is a funfilled trip for the children lasting two to three weeks. They scatter in all directions collecting flowers. They also collect greens for the evening meal and sometimes also small bundles of firewood. They sometimes sit on rocks along the way and gossip.
Sometime along this month, Gavaramma, the goddess, represented by a daub of cowdung, is added at the centre of the muggu, and decorated with a flower. The yellow pumpkin flower is the preferred flower. Once begun, the practice of putting the Gavaramma has to be continued till the festival day. The Gavaramma is removed before afternoon each day and stuck away on the wall or on some tree.
Eddulu pandaga (Bullock festival) is on the third day of the festivities. The cowshed is washed with cowdung, and decorative muggus applied with white rock powder. The cows, bulls and calves are bathed and decorated. Their horns are scraped and brightly painted.
Various grasses and herbs are collected and tied across the entrance to the village and before the entrance of each house. This thoranam (string decoration hung above the doorway) consists of sinkesari (Delonix elata) leaves, pithiki poo (Aerva lanata), tangedu (Cassia auriculata) leaves, nalleru (Cissus quadrangularis), gurugu flowers, moga beeraaku, aada beeraaku, tulasi leaves, mango leaves, neem leaves, turmeric leaves and other leaves stuck into a rope woven of rice straw.
A pyramid is erected with three sugarcane stems near the cowshed. A ball of cowdung, with eyes and nose fashioned on it, is placed there as the gavaramma. Kumkum is applied on it and turmeric is sprinkled over it. Three thendra or banana leaves are placed before it. Sometimes turmeric or mango leaves are instead placed. A sangati mudda (ball of rice and ragi which is usually made for meals), is cooked for the cattle in the cowshed on a small pot, and is placed on the leaves with turmeric and kumkum.
A plate with burning camphor in it is circled before the cattle. Kumkum and turmeric is applied on their feet and foreheads. A coconut is broken and the water is sprinkled on them. The gavaramma is worshipped with camphor and incense sticks are stuck on it. The uppu chakka is sprinkled over the gavaramma.
The cattle are then fed the food from the leaves. After this they are fed uppu chakka (salted barks). The uppu chakka consists of various barks pounded together with half the amount of salt. The barks include sinkesari (Delonix elata) chakka, baagi chakka, nalla uppu chakka, mirupu ginjilu chakka, vepa (neem) chakka , kaanuga( Pongamia pinnata) chakka, maavidi(mango) chakka, erra neeredu (Syzygium cumini) chakka, and others. Uppulu aakulu roots are also added. The pounded yellowish mass is sifted in a winnow. Half the quantity of salt is added. This is rubbed on the tongues of all the cattle and is then given to for eating. If the cattle is unwilling then three handfuls are forced into the mouth. The sheep guzzle it up if it is spread out on rocks. The salt attracts them.
In 2012, though some people had prepared the uppu chakka, there was antu (ritual impurity) for one of the families as news came that some distant relative of theirs had died in another village. It was decided to not give any of the cattle uppu chakka as it was considered inappropriate that only some cattle have it on that day. The event would be postponed to another day in such cases. In the case of Sankranthi festivities, the festivities are postponed to thai amaavaasya.