Frenzy grips devotees as Asia’s biggest tribal fair reaches climax

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Thousands of devotees made a beeline to offer prayers to tribal deities at Medaram in Telangana’s Mulugu district as the Sammakka Sarakka Jatara reached a climax on Friday.

Tribals and non-tribals from across Telangana and neighbouring districts thronged Medaram for the biennial event, billed as the largest tribal fair in Asia.

The full-scale celebrations began on Thursday night with the customary arrival of Sammakka from Chilukalgutta at the altar where Sarakka’s image had already been installed on Wednesday night.

As thousands of devotees waited with bated breath, the Superintendent of Police SSG Patil fired several rounds in the air heralding the arrival of Sammakka.

Devotees went into frenzy with chants. Some cut a chicken and hurled it into the air as an offering. The devotion reached a crescendo as the devotees vied with each other to reach out to the altar of Sammakka and Sarakka.

This was the most awaited moment for which they all endured the back-breaking journey into the forests, cooked and slept in the open, and patiently waited in serpentine queues. In seconds, the lumps of turmeric, jaggery, and countless coconuts rained on the altar with devotees also throwing money and gold ornaments at the altar to appease the deities.

Earlier in the day, a group of tribal priests went up the hillock and offered prayers for hours. Invoking the goddess unto them, they came down with the deity to be installed on the altar at Medaram village.

Thousands of people who lined on either side of the road from Chilkalgutta forest to Medaram village sacrificed animals as is the local custom and scores of women danced endlessly. The procession was delayed with the devotees trying to offer prayers en route and it was only after dark that the deity reached the venue.

The crowds thronging this tiny village occupied every possible inch of land. The queues moved at a very slow pace despite the efforts of various agencies.

For the tribals, who came all the way from neighbouring Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, and Odisha and from Eturunagaram, Bhadrachalam, Venkatapuram, Manuguru, and other places in Andhra Pradesh, the festival has spiritual relevance. They all look up to Sammakka and Sarakka as their family deities. They invoke the goddess and dance in gay abandon. The devotees offer jaggery considered as gold equal to their weight.

The idols of Sarakkaa’s father Pagidigidda Raju and husband Govinda Raju will also be brought to Medaram later in the day.

The four-day fair kicked off late on Wednesday with the arrival of Sarakka from Kannepally village. The idol covered in red cloth was brought in a vessel laden with vermilion and turmeric powder.

As many as 1.25 crore people are expected to visit the Jatara. The TSRTC expects to transport nearly 30 lakh people operating 4,000 buses while the rest are expected to arrive by 3.5 lakh private vehicles.

Tribals congregate at Medaram once in two years to celebrate the valour of legendary warriors Sammakka and Sarakka.

They treat them as goddesses and hail their bravery in trying to protect them. Belonging to the Koya tribe, the mother-daughter duo died while fighting against the Kakatiya empire.

The legend is that Sammakka and her daughter Saralamma fought against the levy of taxes on tribals during drought by the then Kakatiya rulers in the 12th century.

Tribal king Medaraju was ruling the tribal habitations on the banks of the Godavari river, and was supposed to pay a royalty to the Kakatiya kings.

However, due to severe prolonged drought, Medaraju failed to pay the royalty. Treating it as defiance, the Kakatiya kings invaded the region. Medaraju died while fighting against the Kakatiya army. His daughter Sammakka and her daughter Sarakka or Saralamma too died fighting.

According to local lore, Sammakka, who was fatigued went up the Chilukalagutta hillocks and disappeared. The Adivasis who reportedly went in search for her only found a casket of vermilion under a bamboo tree.

Once every two years, the tribal priests offer prayers at the bamboo grove and bring a casket of vermilion and bamboo sticks wrapped in red cloth symbolising Sammakka. A day before, the priest performed a similar ritual at Kannepalli village 4 kms from Medaram and brought the deity Sarakka. After three days, they take back the deities and leave them in the forest until the next Jatara.

The tribals also offer red blouse pieces, vermilion, and turmeric to the deities in large quantities. They take a little part of the same as prasadam from the altar back to their homes.

Devotees also take a holy dip in Jampanna Vagu, a tributary of the Godavari river. Jampanna was the tribal warrior and the son of tribal Goddess Sammakka who was killed fighting the Kakatiya army. The tribals believe that a dip in the stream washes away their sins.

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