Telangana hamlet of 300 to host 12 million during tribal festival
HYDERABAD: Telangana has scaled up its ambition to showcase one of the largest tribal congregations in Asia once every two years at Medaram, a small hamlet in Jayashankar Bhupalapally district.
Medaram, home to about 300 Koya tribals, hosts the biennial Sammakka-Saralamma Jatara, a four-day festival that honours a legendary tribal mother-daughter duo who attained martyrdom while fighting the army of Kakatiya kings in the 11th century. People revere Sammakka and her daughter, Saralamma, as goddesses. The festival begins Wednesday and the administration is waiting for a sea of humanity to descend on Medaram, about 250km northeast of Hyderabad.
“In 2016, the footfall for the jatara was around nine million. We expect it to cross 12 million this year,” said district sub-collector VP Gautam.
The festival attracts tribals from the Dandakaranya forest belt encompassing Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, and Madhya Pradesh, and draws thousands of non-tribals as well.
“A majority of the visitors is non-tribals who come to understand tribal life, culture and out of devotion,” said Gautam.
The festival is also where tribals decide wedding engagements, settle land issues, discuss protection of trees and nature, and bring their problems to the government’s notice.
This year, the government has set up a museum at the venue to display tribal culture. “We are focusing on branding so that it can get national festival status and also UNESCO recognition,” said Gautam.
The festival generates around ₹5 crore in cash through ‘hundi’ collections. Of this, one-third is paid directly to the 30-odd tribal priests who perform the rituals.
“Money is also generated from allied activities such as tonsuring heads, sale of coconuts, jaggery, parking fee and rent from food courts. It goes to local tribals,” said Gautam.
The festival’s rituals are inviolable. “We don’t allow any new culture into it,” said tribal priest S Chalamaiah.
The jatara begins on the full moon day of Magha, as per Hindu lunar calendar, when priests bring Saralamma from Kannepalli village, about 2km from Medaram, and install her on a gadde (raised platform or throne) under a fig tree. The next day, Sammakka is brought from Chilkalgutta (a nearby hillock where she is believed to have attained martyrdom) and installed on an adjacent throne.
Sammakka and Saralamma are not in the form of idols but represented through boxes of vermillion and turmeric tied to bamboo sticks. There are smaller platforms for Samakkka’s husband, Pagididda Raju, and Saralamma’s husband, Govindarajulu, who are also believed to have died in their fight with Kakatiya kings.
Animal sacrifice is an intrinsic part and consumption of liquor is a custom here, according to Ranganath, a local journalist. “Thousands of animals are sacrificed and offered to deities. Devotees also offer jaggery equal to their bodyweight to the deities.”
Hundreds of people have already arrived in the village ahead of the congregation that gets underway today.