Medaram jatara, the largest tribal festival of the country, is celebrated in memory and respect of Sammakka and Saarakka
Attired in their best costumes and dancing to folk tunes and drum beats, the tribes people began gathering for the fair from Wednesday at Medaramm, a tiny village amid thick forests, about 110 km from Warangal city.
The tribals have arrived from different parts of Andhra Pradesh and neighbouring states like Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa to worship two legendary tribal women – Sammakka and Sarakka.
The event, held once in two years, is also termed the tribal Kumbh Mela as the scenes here are similar to the religious mega-fairs held on the banks of the Ganges and the Narmada. The crowd during the four-day fair is expected to reach eight million.
According to officials, two million people are already at the fair, which began with the tribal priests bringing goddess Sarakka – also known as Saralamma – after prayers at Kanneboinapalli village, eight km from Medaram.
The devotees walk behind in the path trod by Sarakka in the belief it will bring happiness and prosperity to them.
Joint Collector K. Srinivasa Raju and other government officials accompanied the priests as per custom. It took nearly an hour for them to reach the main altar at Medaram village.
Late in the evening the deity was seated on ‘gadde’ (pedestal), as tens of thousands of devotees vied with each other to touch the pedestal, swaying deliriously to music.
Earlier, thousands took a holy dip in the Jampanna Vagu, a rivulet, before offering obeisance to the deity. Many women believe a bath in the rivulet will get them good husbands.
As the unmarried girls took the dip, priests blessed them. ‘Shiva sathis’ (wives of Lord Shiva) applied turmeric all over the bodies of the girls and sprinkled vermilion on them.
The police had a tough time controlling the crowds, as pilgrims walked for over 12 km to reach Medaram. Vehicles on Hanamkonda-Pasra Road were stranded for over 10 km.
The narrow roads and lack of basic amenities added to the woes of the pilgrims. Though the district administration arranged 36,000 makeshift toilets, they were not enough.
The pilgrims also complained of drinking water shortage.
The crowds are expected to reach their peak Thursday evening when Sammakka, mother of Sarakka, will be brought to the altar from Chilkalagutta and placed on the ‘gadde’.
The deities will remain there till Saturday evening, when the tribal priests take them back to the villages.
It is believed that the goddesses visit the tribals during the ‘jatra’. The devotees, many high on liquor, weigh themselves against jaggery and offer it to the deities. They also sacrifice goats and chicken.
Traders do brisk business as devotees buy massive jaggery blocks, thousands of goats and chicken, vermilion caskets and bottles of liquor.
Legend has it that about 1,000 years ago, a group of Koya tribals passing through the region found a little girl playing with a tigress. The head of the tribe adopted and named her Sammakka. She married the headman of a neighbouring village and Sarakka was born to them.
Sammakka stood up against the Kakatiyas – who ruled Andhra from Warangal between 1000 and 1380 AD – when they tried to collect taxes from Koyas despite a severe drought. The rulers killed many tribals and Sammakka fought against them to avenge the killings.
During the fighting, Samakka and her daughter Sarakka were injured. She told the Koyas that as long as they remembered her, she would protect them. She cursed the Kakatiya dynasty that they would perish and disappeared into the forest.
Koyas searched for their queen but found only her bangles and the pugmarks of a tigress. Later, Muslim invaders destroyed the Kakatiya dynasty. Since then the tribals have been holding the fair in memory of the two women, whom they revere as goddesses.
source: News Post India
The deity of Sammakka was brought from the Chilkalgutta hillock in the deep forest area by the tribal priests in the evening and placed by the side of Sarakka on the gaddelu as the devotees jostled with one another to pay reverence to the goddess.
While the deities of Sammakka’s husband Pagididda Raju was brought from Poonugondla of Kothaguda mandal, Sarakka’s husband Govindarajulu was brought from Kondai of Eturunagaram mandal amid drum beats and placed along side the goddesses.
Superintendent of police Soumya Mishra fired three rounds in the air to signal the arrival of Sammakka from the forest area. With Sammakka and Sarakka deities mounted on the platforms, devotees’ joy knew no bounds as they swayed to the folk songs and raucous drum beats. The pilgrim rush which was around 20 lakh on Wednesday reached its peak with almost 40-45 lakh congregating at the jatara site on Thursday evening.
Millions of devotees, who waited in serpentine queues for the arrival of Sammakka, sang hymns in praise of the deities even as shrieks of ‘Sammakka-Sarakka thalli… mammalanu kapadu thalli (save us mother)’ reverberated the area. Even as the literate and illiterate, young and old and men and women made a beeline to the gaddelu, young girls ran after ‘Shiva Sathis’ and ‘Devara Lakshmis’ to seek their blessings.
According to reports, 12 persons, including four policemen, were injured at mela on Thursday. Nearly 100 people were affected due to diarrhoea. Collector K Damayanthi, joint collector K S Srinivasa Raju and the SP monitored the arrangements and allayed the pilgrims’ fears saying sufficient health camps have been set up to take care of patients.
A massive crowd of 15-20 lakhs attended the festival on the first day as the devotees made a dash to the ‘gadde’ or platform where the deity of Sarakka was placed late in the evening. Sarakka was brought from the forest in a colourful procession from Kannepalli village, 8 km from here, by the tribal priests. On Thursday evening Sarakka’s mother Sammakka will be brought from Chilakalagutta hillock and placed on the ‘gadde’ at the jatara site.
Police had a tough time in regulating the free flow of traffic as vehicles were stranded for a stretch of 10 km on the Pasra-Tadvai road leading to Medaram, while unconfirmed reports said the traffic jams extended to nearly 20 km. Though collector K Damayanthi and district SP Soumya Mishra are personally supervising the arrangements, devotees complained about lack of drinking water and other facilities.
Pilgrims from Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh states pitched tents and temporary sheds in the nearby fields at the jatara site. With no sanitation facilities in place, the place reeked of stench even as the ‘possessed’ devotees, high on liquor, danced in gay abandon.
Surprisingly, endowments minister J Ratnakar Rao claimed in Hyderabad that the government has made fool-proof arrangements for the jatara though the opposition parties cried foul over the slack work done by the officials for the event.
Meanwhile, sources said a 60-year-old man died because of heavy boozing, while a three-year-old girl died of high fever late on Tuesday evening in the village.