Jayashankar Bhupalpally: All arrangements have been made for the Sammakka-Saralamma jatara, Asia’s biggest tribal fair, at Medaram forests in SS Tadvai mandal.
With 1.25 crore visitors, tribals and non-tribals, expected to visit the place, elaborate arrangements have been made by the State government. Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao will visit Medaram on February 2. Vice-President M Venkaiah Naidu will be chief guest for the occasion.
The festival begins as the idol of tribal folk goddess Sarlamma in the form of ‘Kumkum Bharane’ (sindhur casket) is brought from her temple at Kannepalli by Kaka Saraiah, a tribal priest, two km away after the lunar eclipse on January 31, for installation on a ‘Gadde’ (round platform) at Medaram.
The arrival of Sammakka, tribal folk goddess and also the mother of Saralamma, on February 1 is also an important event of the jatara.
As the rhythm of tribal drumbeats rise steadily, tens and thousands of tribals and devotees wait in anticipation as tribal Koya priests venture into the sacred groves of Chilukala Gutta (hillock), about one-km from Medaram, to bring the goddess in form of ‘Kumkum Bharane’.
Tribal priests, also called Vaddes, Kokkera Krishnaiah, Siddaboina Munider and Siddaboina Laxman Rao will bring Sammakka from the sacred grove.
The firing of several rounds of a rifle in the air by senior police official, generally Superintendent of Police, marks the arrival of Sammakka from the sacred grove.
For the next two days after the goddesses are placed on the ‘Gadde’, devotees surge to touch the sacred precincts of Sammakka and Sarakka.
The government has banned culling of birds at the Gadde site. However, the act of ‘Eduru-Kodi’ (flying birds tied to a rope) is allowed and there is no ban on consumption of liquor. The devotees also drink, cook meat and make merry at the jatara venue before returning to their places.
This was the moment they waited for, enduring back-breaking travel in bullock carts, cooking and sleeping in the open and standing in long queues. Soon, turmeric, vermillion, jaggery and coconuts, quintals of them, will fill the altar as the devout pay their obeisance to the tribal goddesses.
Since 1998, the tribal fest has been given State festival status and is assured of national status. It attracts tribals from central Indian States of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh.
Since the formation of Telangana, the State government has given priority to tribal welfare measures and also the Sammakka -Saralamma festival. Over Rs 160 crore was allocated for infrastructure in 2016 and this year it has granted Rs 80.65 crore.
RV Karnan said that photo and video contest would be organised to spread awareness about the jatara. Cash prizes worth Rs 3 lakh for best entries would be given and the photos would be utilised for tribal welfare campaigns. The contest was open for both professional photographers and general public to click selfies of interesting spots in the jatara.
Venue well equipped
From chopper rides to WiFi services, mobile toilets, huge parking lots to crowd counting cameras, the jatara has gone hi-tech this year.
“Twenty lakh water sachets are readied for free distribution at the jatara,” said in-charge Collector RV Karnan.
Nearly 10,000 police personnel are deployed with 200 CCTV cameras for general surveillance, and 20 CCTV cameras covering the national highway 163 from Gudeppadu to Pasra to avoid traffic snarls. The officials are using latest technology and cyber tools for providing adequate security and basic amenities like drinking water, accommodation and parking lots. Folk artefacts are on display to enthrall the visitors.
The police are also using four drone cameras for the crowd management and variable message sign (VMS) to locate missing persons, especially children, at the jatara. “For the first time, we are installing 15 crowd counting cameras for headcount as part of crowd management, six of them fixed at the ‘Gaddelu’,” said SP R Bhaskaran.
A saga of survival
The biennial event showcases tribals’ love for forests and trees and their determined struggle to fight for the protection of their habitats. The Sammakka -Saralamma jatara is an expression of independence of tribals for forests and their pitched battle with the mighty Kakatiya rulers. It is also a saga of their survival.
The rituals are performed by the priests of the Chanda clan of Koya tribe to which Sammakka belonged to.
Though the goddesses belonged to Koya community, they have a good following among all sects of Telangana and also other central Indian states of Maharashtra, Chhatisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, and Jharkhand. Tribals come on bullock carts, tractors, jeeps and many of them by walk to reach Medaram for the festival. Same way non-tribals of AP, Telangana and Maharashtra etc come in buses, lorries, and camp at parking lots for the duration of the jatara.
The tribal and non-tribal devotees will begin revelries after darshan of the folk mother-daughter duo, who disappeared into the forest after a bloody battle with the army of the Kakatiya rulers 1000 years ago. According to tribal folklore, both come out of the forest once in two years to inspire the tribals to fight the corrupt rulers and also protect the trees.