Medaram Jatara (Medaram Festival)
Medaram is a village in the “dandakaaranya” (dandaka forest ) area of the Mulugu taluk of Warangal district, about 150-km away from Warangal city. Here Sammakka Jatara, non-Vedic and non-Brahminical festival is celebrated once in two years on a very large scale for four days in January-February. It is a rare confluence of different tribes and castes and their traditions at this biennial Indian fair. Medaram Festival is considered to be the largest festival in the South India and is one of the largest festivals in the world. History, Mythology and practices: According to a tribal story, about 6-7 centuries ago, a group of Koya Indians traveling through the dandakaaranya found a little girl playing with tigers. The head of the tribe adopted and named her Sammakka.
VEPACHEDU March 2004, Issue 74, supplement 1, http://www.vepachedu.org/manasanskriti/medaram.html
Medaram Jatara (Medaram Festival)
Medaram is a village in the “dandakaaranya” (dandaka forest ) area of the Mulugu taluk of Warangal district, about 150-km away from Warangal city. Here Sammakka Jatara, non-Vedic and non-Brahminical festival is celebrated once in two years on a very large scale for four days in January-February. It is a rare confluence of different tribes and castes and their traditions at this biennial Indian fair. Medaram Festival is considered to be the largest festival in the South India and is one of the largest festivals in the world. This year (2004), it was estimated that approximately six million devotees visited the shrine. (It was estimated that 2 million Hajj pilgrims participated in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, this year). History, Mythology and practices: According to a tribal story, about 6-7 centuries ago, a group of Koya Indians traveling through the dandakaaranya found a little girl playing with tigers. The head of the tribe adopted and named her Sammakka. She married the headman of a neighboring village. Saaralamma was her daughter. The Koya Indians were a tributary to the Kakatiyas, who ruled the country of Andhra from Warangal City between 1000 AD and 1380 AD. Once, the Koyas assisted the Kakatiyas in a war. After sometime, there was a severe drought that lasted for years and as a result the mighty Godavari River dried up. Koyas didn’t have even food to eat. However, the Kakatiyas insisted on the payment of taxes.
The Kakatiya emperor sent his forces to teach the Koyas a lesson and collect taxes and the Koyas had no option but to resist. After a bitter war, the Kakatiya Prime Minister visited war ravaged Koya kingdom. By then most of the Koya chiefs had fallen in battle. The Prime Minister proposed peace and offered Sammakka a place in the emperor’s harem as the chief queen. Samakka turned down the offer and resolved to continue the fight to avenge the dead. The battle continued and Samakka was wounded. Samakka told her people that as long as they remembered her, she would protect them. Then, she cursed the Kaktiya dynasty to perish and disappeared into the deep forest. The Koyas searched for their queen and found only a red ochre box, her bangles and the pug-marks of a huge tigress. Soon after, Muslim invaders destroyed the Kakatiya dynasty.
Since then, the Koyas, Waddaras and other Indian tribes and castes have been holding festivals in memory of Sammakka and Saralamma regularly. There is no permanent idol of the deity. It is said that a Koya boy who gets a vision before the festival, searches in the forest for a week without food and sleep and finally brings the goddesses in the farm of two vermilion caskets tied to a piece of bamboo, one representing the main deity Sammakka and the other her daughter Saarakka or Saaralamma. The actual festival begins in the month of Magha, on Suddha Pournami (full moon day) evening when Saaralamma would be traditionally brought from Kanneboyinapalle, a village in the forest, and installed on a gaddi (the throne or platform), an earthen platform raised under a tree. Animals are sacrificed and intoxicants such as liquor are widely used. Hundreds of people who are often possessed by the goddess come there dancing ecstatically throughout their journey. The special offering to the deity is jaggery. Some offer jaggery equal to their weight and distribute. It is a rare opportunity to witness some ancient practices especially pabba, Shiva sathi (sathi means lady) and Lakshmi Devaras. Shiva sathis are women who go into trance and bless the childless women to have children and the process of that blessing is called pabba.
The belief is that those who had the blessings of Sammakka-Saralamma through the words of Shiva sathis would have children. Children get their heads tonsured. Young girls accompanied by their parents performed special prayers with the help of Shiva sathis and Lakshmi Devaras to get suitable husbands.
Festival 2004: This year, Magha Suddha Pournami fell on Wednesday, February 4, 2004. Large screens were erected in the village to project the proceedings at the gaddelu (thrones) in order to reduce stampede at the site. The newly constructed bathing ghats at the Jampannavagu rivulet were full of activity, where the devotees took a holy. Temporary lodging facilities were arranged in about 7 kilometers of area around the thrones of Sammakka and Saralamma. The priests are Koya Indians. The tribal priests, Ellaiah Empalli, Narsaiah Kokkari, Baburao Chanda, Munender Siddaboina and Laxmanrao Siddaboina, accompanied by the district Collector, Siva Sankar N., and the Superintendent of Police, Prabhat Nalin, returned from the Chilakala Gutta hillocks, about 2 km from Medaram village, with a symbol of Sammakka and installed it at the jatara site .Millions of other Indian tribes from various states in the Indian Union, mainly the five central Indian states, namely Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Chattisgarh, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, congregate at Medaram during the celebrations. For the tribals who came in large numbers from Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Maharashtra and the forest tracts of Eturunagaram, Bhadrachalam, Venkatapuram, Manuguru and other areas of Andhra Pradesh, the festival had a spiritual relevance.
The non-tribals, most of them unaware of the historic significance of the festival, thronged the place for fun carrying cartons of liquor. Medaram jatara was also held in various parts of Telangana, such as Rekurthi, Chintakunta villages on the outskirts of Karimnagar town, Obulapur in Sircilla mandal, Ranganayakula gutta in Huzurabad mandal, Illanthakunta mandal, Godavarikhani, Bheemadevarapally, Husnabad mandals and other places.Coconuts, jaggery and fowl selling shops did a roaring business during the jatara as pilgrims offered the presiding deities with the jaggery, coconuts and fowls. The police made adequate security arrangements at the jatara villages this year. The Andhra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation operated hundreds of special buses (about 2000 buses) to the Medaram jatara from various parts the state.
Notes and References
1. danDakaaranya: Sri Rama along with his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana made Dandaka forest his abode for a while during his 14-year exile in the forest. It is here that Lakshmana cut off the ears and nose of Surpanakha, sister of Emperor Ravana of
Sri Lanka; Rama destroyed 14-thousand strong infantry of Khara, Dushana and Trisira; Rama killed Maricha; Ravana abducted Sita and killed Jatayu. (Aranyaparva of Ramayana) Ikshvaku was the ruler of the kingdom that extended from Vindhya Mountains to
Himalaya Mountains. He had hundred sons, among them Danda (danDa), Vikushi, and Nimi were famous. After Ikshvaku, Danda became the ruler. Danda built a new capital called Madhumatta and ruled the country. Danda was the reincarnation of an asura, Krodhahanta. According to Brahmanda purana, Danda participated in Deva-asura war and destroyed thousands of Asuras. One day he went to the forest for hunting. There, he saw Araa, the daughter of Sukracharya who was the preceptor and guru of Asuras. Danda raped her. Araa complained to her father. Sukracharya suggested her to do penance and then cursed by rain of fire on Danda and destroyed Danda and his kingdom, which became an uninhabitable forest, called dandakaranya. (Uttara Ramayana). Andhra Pradesh falls into dandakaranya area.
2. “A tide of piety and devotion at Medaram jatara,” The Hindu, February 6, 2004.
3. Millions of pilgrims pray outside Mecca as Hajj nears end, USA Today, 1/30/2004; http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2004-01-30-hajj_x.htm.
5. Colorful Start to Sammakka-Sarakka Jatara, The Hindu, February 5, 2004.
6. Gaddenekkina saaralamma, Vaartha, February 4, 2004.
7. Gaddepai koluvaina saaralamma, Andhrabhoomi, February 4, 2004.
8. Janaranyam dandakaaranyam, Andhrabhoomi, February 3, 2004.
9. Sammakka-saralakka jatara neti nunche, Andhrajyothi, February 4, 2004.……………………………………………………………………………………..….
Samakka Festival – A Mammoth Meeting
A little festival of tribal origin in Andhra Pradesh has become a major pilgrimage in the last six years. The Samakka festival is held every two years at Medaram deep in the heart of the thick forests of Warangal district. The population of the little forest village at Medaram in normal times never exceeds 300. Suddenly, during the month of February it rises to over 3500000! Millions of devotees come from all over Andhra Pradesh and neighbouring states like Orissa, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. This festival is held in memory of a Koya tribal queen called Samakka who fought against the kedieval dynasty of the Kakatiyas who ruled from Warangal between 1000 A.D.-1380 A.D. approximately. Among the traditional deities of the Koyas and other forest tribes is the Tiger Goddess of whom there is an interesting legend. As the story goes, around 600 years ago, a band of Koyas walking through the thick forest came upon a little girl playing with full grown tigers. They retrieved the infant and the headman adopted her. She was named Samakka. She grew up into fine young woman and married the headman of a neighbouring village. Among her children was a daughter named Saralama. Both mother and daughter were reputed for their kind and helpful nature. The Koyas were tributary to the Kakatiyas. Once their assistance on the battle field had saved the Kakatiyas. The king, pleased with them, told them to ask for any boon. The Koyas replied that they were content with their peaceful forest life and lacked nothing. When the king insisted the Koyas said in case of need they would ask for some boon later. It so happened that there was a severe drought lasting for years. The Godavari dried up and food stocks were exhausted. At this precise time the Kakatiyas came to collect taxes from the Koyas who were unable to pay up. The king flew into a range. He sent his forces to teach the Koyas a lesson.
The Koyas were aghast. The troops discovering the Koyas had hardly enough to eat themselves returned empty-handed reporting that there were no taxes to be collected. This angered the king further. He sent a large force and they committed all sorts of atrocities. The Koyas had no option but to resist. Finally the minister of the king decided to take a look. By then most of the Koya chiefs had fallen in battle. The minister proposed peace and offered Samakka a place in the king’s harem as chief queen. Samakka turned down the offer saying she had no faith in the promises of kings. Besides so many Koyas had been killed and she resolved to continue the fight.
Again the battle raged and Samakka received a spear wound. “Now we will capture the heroic Samakka,” thought the king’s forces. They never captured her. She fled into the deep forest solemnly calling the elements saying “If the Koyas are blameless, may the dynasty of Warangal perish.” The grieving Koyas searched for their queen al they found were a red ochre box, bangles … and the pug marks of a huge full grown tigress. The Warangal dynasty was extinguished very soon. While escaping Samakka had also told here people “So long as you remember me, I shall be there with you always.”
The Koyas and Waddaras regularly hold festivals in memory of Samakka. Every two years Koya a priest ceremonially bring the ochre box and standards of Samakka and place them at the food of a tree symbolizing Saralama, her daughter besides other Koyas warriors. It is said that during the festival a huge tiger prowls around peacefully. The mammoth crowd that descends on Medaram pitch their makeshift tents under the trees. Colourful bedsheets and sarees serve as tent cloth. The crowd treks to a nearby rivulet called Jampana Vaagu, named after a son of Samakka, to take a dip in the waters. Among the pilgrims are childless women. They are put through a ritual conducted by elderly women. On the banks of the river one sees several children getting their first ceremonial haircut. Apparently some pilgrims have had prayers answered. While the festival has tribal roots, today the bulk of the pilgrims are non-tribals. There are elements of very ancient rites reminiscent of old matriarchal societies. Some men dress in women’s garb for the duration of the festival. Some women behave as though they are ‘possessed’. The official Koya oracle forecasts the general future of the people.
The trees signifying the Koya martyrs are in an enclosure where pilgrims file past. When the priests bring out the ochre box and other relics from a hidden forest location, there is great tumult with frenzied beating of drums, blowing of trumpets and full throated yells. Earlier cocks and sheep were ritually slaughtered. Now offerings are coconuts and jaggery. They are piled at the foot of the trees. By nightfall, the exodus starts. In two days Medaram is deserted. The crowd vanishes as suddenly as it arrived. The long line of buses – 1500 this year – raise clouds of red dust. Medaram goes to sleep for the next two years. ………………………………………………………….
http://kakathiya.blogspot.com/2006/02/sammakka-sarakka.html Monday, February 13, 2006
Its that part of the year in Medaram when the beloved goddesses of the tribals visit them. Its that time when the forest is tranformed into a cosmopolis. Its that time when all the buses in Telangana head towards Medaram. Its that time when people are weighed in bangaram(jaggery) which is offered to the Gods. Its that time of the year when countless bullock carts march towards the jungles of Medaram. Its that time of the year when there are 60km long traffic jams in Warangal. Its that time of the year when my grandmother prays for me.Its time for the largest tribal congregation in the universe. To give you an idea of how big this really is
In 2004, 6 million people attended the festival.Thats more than the population of Hyderabad city.In the same year it was estimated that 2 million Hajj pilgrims participated in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. And Vatican received 3 million visitors in the whole year. It is the second largest religious congregation after the Maha Kumbh Mela which happens once in 12 years.Inspite of being such a large scale festival it has rarely received any support from the government. Medaram is a remote place in the Eturunagaram wildlife Sanctuary, a part of Dandakaranya, the largest surviving forest belt in the Deccan. It is spread over five states and numerous tribes inhabit it. Things havent changed much there since the Kakatiyan times about 1000 years ago. Until very recently the only way to reach Medaram was by a bullock cart. Apart from the four days of the biennial festival, there is not a soul moving there. It was a desolute place with no road or transportation.It was only in 1998 that the govt of AP declared the 1000 year old festival as official and laid down a transportable road. The lack of involvement of the govt has, however, helped the festival retain its own spirit. Sammakka Sarakka jatara is an indeginiuos tribal festival with no vedic or brahmanic influence. Goats and hens are sacrificed in thousands and there is a lot of liquor going around. The rituals performed during the festival unfurl the tribal spirit in its purest form. The very fact of the survival and thriving of this ancient tribal festival, in the face of several adversities, is a testimony of the indomitable resolve, honesty, uprightness and courage of the Girijan