By: Mohammad Salman
October 9 2023
Online posts falsely claiming that video shows Rahul Gandhi participating in Muharram processions. (Source: X/Screenshots)
This video was taken in Telangana when Gandhi took part in the ‘Potharajulu’ tradition and whipped himself joining Budaga Jangalu community members.
What is the claim?
A video of Indian politician and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi flogging himself with a whip is going viral on social media with the claim that it shows the parliamentarian observing Muharram. Archived versions of the posts sharing the claim can be viewed here, here, here, and here.
Screenshots of the claims made online. (Source: X/Screenshots)
The posts claim that Gandhi participated in the rituals of Muharram—which is the first month of the Islamic calendar. On the tenth day of this month (680 AD), Prophet Muhammad's grandson Imam Hussain was martyred along with his family and companions in the fields of Karbala. On this day, Muslims, especially Shia Muslims, mourn Imam Hussain's martyrdom by participating in a procession and hitting themselves with a whip.
However, the claim shared with the video is false. This video was taken in Telangana during Congress' Bharat Jodo Yatra in 2022, when Gandhi whipped himself as part of the 'Potharajulu' tradition.
What are the facts?
A reverse image search using the video's keyframes led us to a November 3, 2022, report by English outlet The Hindu. The report carried a photograph of Rahul Gandhi whipping himself just like in the viral clip. The Hindu report stated that the Congress leader flogged himself with a whip as part of the 'Potharajulu' tradition—an integral part of Telangana's acclaimed Bonalu festival. The report added that the Budaga Jangalu community practices the custom of "visiting villages and collecting money while whipping themselves for a livelihood." The report said that Gandhi wished to whip himself when community members did the same in front of him.
The Hindu report from November 2022 on Rahul Gandhi joining Bonalu celebrations. (Source: The Hindu/Screenshot)
On its official X account, The Hindu-Hyderabad—which focuses on coverage from Telangana— shared a longer video of the viral version. The caption of this post stated, "Rahul Gandhi whips himself with a lash like Potharajus, who are part of Bonalu festival, during the #BharatJodoYatra in Telangana. Sangareddy MLA T Jayaprakash Reddy shows him how the lash is used without hurting himself."
Comparison between the viral video and video shared by The Hindu-Hyderabad on X. (Source: X/Screenshots)
Several media outlets, including The Economic Times and Hindustan Times, had published reports in November 2022 about Gandhi whipping himself as part of the 'Potharajulu' tradition. This video was also shared from the official X account of the Indian National Congress on November 3, 2022.
Screenshot of the Congress’s X post from November 2022. (Source: Screenshot/X)
The Bonalu festival
According to the official government website of the Hyderabad district, Bonalu is a Hindu festival celebrated to worship goddess Mahakali. "It is an annual festival celebrated in the twin cities Hyderabad and Secunderabad and other parts of Telangana state, India. Bonalu is celebrated usually during Ashada Masam that falls in July/August," the website states.
Potharajulu, or Pothuraju, is considered the guardian deity of various gods and goddesses, who are worshiped in villages. "Pothuraju, considered the brother of Mother Goddess, is represented by a bare-bodied and well-built man, who wears a small tightly draped red dhoti and bells near ankles, and applies turmeric on his body, including vermilion on his forehead.," the website adds. The whipping is considered an offering to the goddess Mahakali.
The claim that the viral video shows Rahul Gandhi whipping during a Muharram procession is false. The video shows Gandhi whipping himself during the Bharat Jodo Yatra as part of the 'Potharajulu' tradition, an integral part of the Hindu festival of Bonalu in Telangana. Therefore, we have marked this claim as false.
(Translated by: Sanyukta)