Tucked away in the thick forest and serene atmosphere the tiny village Medaram comes alive and is overtaken with sweeping spirituality with ‘Sammakka-Saralamma Jatara’ celebrated once in every two years.
Medaram, located in Eturunagaram wildlife sanctuary- a part of ‘Dandakaranya’- in the newly-formed Mulugu district, is about 95 km from Warangal city. Medaram Sammakka-Saralamma Tribal Shrine is one of the major pilgrim centres in Telangana State.
The Sammakka-Saralamma biennial jatara, is known as Telangana’s Kumbh Mela and acclaimed to be the biggest tribal congregation in the Asian continent. It attracts not only tribal devotees, but also non-tribal devotees from different parts of the State and neighbouring States including Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha.
The main feature of the shrine at Medaram is unlike other pilgrim centres as there is no temple structure. Just the altars or sacred round platforms are seen here to where the deities are brought and revered during the jatara. The goddesses Sammakka and her daughter Saralamma are revered in the form of vermilion in a casket during the jatara period. In 1998, the State government declared the 1000-year old festival as State Festival and now the government is making efforts to tag it a National Festival.
The historic jatara is believed to have been begun in 13th century after the tribal worriers Sammakka and Saralamma laid down their lives fighting the imperial Kakatiya army who prowled on the little tribal hamlet demanding royalty.
When the tribals expressed their inability to pay royalty owing to continued drought, the Kakatiya army waged a war and went on to torturing tribals. In an attempt to protect their people, chieftain Padigidda Raju, his wife Sammakka, his daughter Saralamma and son Jampanna ventured into the battleground and fought against Kakatiya’s army.
While Padigidda Raju met with a heroic death, Saralamma too died at the hands of the mighty Kakatiyan army. Seeing this, Jampanna, who was trying to obstruct the Kakatiyan army, committed suicide by jumping into the Sampenga vagu (tributary to the river Godavari). Sampenga vagu is now known as Jampanna vagu after him.
But Sammakka went on to fight and eliminated the majority of the Kaktiyan army before disappearing into the forests near Chilakalagutta. Later, the tribals found vermilion in a casket from where Sammakka vanished.
According to another tribal story, some tribal leaders who went for hunting found a new born girl (Sammakka) emitting enormous light playing amidst tigers. She was taken to their habitation.
The head of the tribe adopted her and brought her up as a chieftain (she later became the saviour of the tribals of the region). She was married to Pagididda Raju, a feudatory tribal chief of Kakatiyas. She gets martyrdom while fighting the Kaktiyan army.
During the jatara, which generally falls in the month of February, the tribal priests (Koya tribe) at Medaram spruce up and offer special prayers at Sammakka temple. The ritual is called ‘Mendamelige panduga’, which heralds the jatara rituals. It takes place 15 days ahead of jatara.
They also cleanse the Saralamma temple at Kannepalli, six km away from Medaram, on the next day called as ‘Gudimelige panduga’. The tribal women of the priests’ families clean up the temple and draw special patterns with turmeric, vermilion and rice flour while the male members offer special prayers.
The temples are adorned with garlands of mango leaves and incense sticks are lighted up thus bringing a festive atmosphere in the villages around the temples. The tribal priests and their women go in a procession accompanied by a group of men blowing horns and beating up drums heralding beginning of the festivities of historic Sammakka Saralamma Jatara.
This year, the jatara is scheduled to be held from February 5 to 8. On February 5, the tribal priests conduct special prayers at Chilakalagutta two km away from the altar at Medaram and bring a casket of vermilion wrapped in a red cloth symbolising the deity Sammakka and install it at the altar.
On February 6, they bring deity Saralamma to the altar from Kannepalli and thus the official jatara begins. On the auspicious Friday and Saturday, the deities would be there at altar for lakhs of devotees to offer their prayers seeking atonement for their sins and blessings from the deities.
Arrangements for 2020
With the sanctioning of Rs 75 crore by the State government for taking up permanent and temporary works during the jatara, unprecedented facilities are being made for the convenience of the devotees. It is expected that this year around 1.6 crore devotees may visit Medaram shrine.
Mulugu district administration is keenly making efforts for plastic-free Medaram jatara. It established 10 collecting points/check posts. It is said that the district has arranged for free distribution of 35,000 cloth bags sponsored by Vijaya Diary and 10,000 cloth bags by Nandyala Pipes and several other NGOs.
A total of 50 women volunteers from ‘Jeevanadhi NGO’ will be on duty at Jampanna Vagu and other places who would be picking up plastic material and dumping them into dust bins. The ITDA has let out free of rent spaces to shops selling jute bags all over the Medaram village as part of its drive to make it a plastic-free jatara. Food courts and accommodation facilities improved compared to the previous jatara.
The State government is also taking steps to provide adequate medical facilities to lakhs of devotees at the jatara, proper sanitation and safe drinking water round the clock for the convenience of the devotees.