Telangana: India’s biggest tribal festival awaits national status
Ever since Telangana became a state in 2014, the state government has been requesting the Centre to give Sammakka Saralamma Jatara a national festival status
India’s biggest biennial tribal festival – Sammakka Saralamma Jatara to be held at tiny tribal hamlet of Medaram in Tadwai block of Telangana’s Mulug district in coming February, may get the “national festival” status, if the Central government approves the long-pending proposal of the state government.
The “jatara” (fair), which is often referred to as the Kumbh Mela of the South, witnesses the largest congregation of over 10 million tribals from across the country. The footfall at the three-day festival held from February 16 to 18 in 2022 was around 13 million, according to official records of the state tribal welfare department.
Ever since Telangana became a separate state in June 2014, the state government has been requesting the Centre to give Sammakka Saralamma Jatara a national festival status, keeping in view the uniqueness of the festival and the congregation of millions of tribals from all parts of the country.
“This time, too, we have written to the Centre requesting that the festival be acknowledged as a national festival,” additional director of tribal welfare V Sarveshwar Reddy, who is also director of tribal cultural research and training institute, said.
While the response from the Centre to the demand of the state government had been mute all these years, this time, it has asked the state tribal welfare department to send additional details about the biennial fair, the arrangements required to be made for the same and total expenditure proposed to be incurred on the same.
“There was no specific commitment on acknowledging the Sammakka Saralamma Jatara as a national festival, the centre has asked for certain details about the fair and we are furnishing the same,” Reddy said.
If the Centre gives the tribal fair a national festival status on the lines of Kumbh Mela and Durga Puja, the entire expenditure for the conduct of the fair would be borne by it. “Last year, the state government spent over ₹75 crore on Sammakka Saralamma Jatara, while the Centre released just ₹7 crore for some infrastructure works. If the Centre bears the entire expenditure, it would be a big relief for the state,” the official said.
Another senior official who did not wish to be quoted said the state government is also lobbying for a UNESCO recognition for Sammakka Saralamma Jatara, which would help place the event on the global tourism map, besides generating a huge employment for locals.
The tribal fair is celebrated to worship two tribal women – Sammakka and her daughter Saralamma of the 13th century, in the form of deities, on “Magha Suddha Pournami” (the full-moon day of the month of Magha). It draws devotees from Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. Even non-tribal devotees attend this fair in large numbers.
The tribals believe that Sammakka and Saralamma had laid down their lives fighting the mighty emperors of the Kakatiya dynasty who had attacked their little tribal hamlet demanding royalty and sought to destroy their life and culture.
Unlike in other religious congregations, the Sammakka-Saralamma Jatara has no temple built for these deities. They are just two poles which are brought from two separate places – Sammakka from the neighbouring hillock called Chilakalagutta and Saralamma from Kannepalli village in procession following traditional tribal rituals amidst beating of drums and blowing of trumpets and erected on two platforms, where they are worshipped for the next two days.
Millions of tribal devotees from different states of India, particularly Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Maharashtra, Karnataka and parts of Jharkhand, take part in the Jatara. Devotees offer Bangaram (gold) in the form of jaggery of a quantity equal to their weight to the goddesses and take holy bath in Jampanna vagu, a local stream. Sacrifice of goats, sheep and fowls for the deities has been the part of the worship.
According to Siddaboina Jagga Rao, president of the Sammakka Saralamma Jatara tribal priests’ association, the legend of the tribal festival dates back to 13th century. Some Koya tribal leaders who went hunting deep inside the dense forests of Tadwai found a new-born baby girl being guarded by tigers. She was brought to the tribal hamlet and named as Sammakka.
The head of the tribe adopted Sammakka and brought her up as the chieftain, trained in tribal warfare. When she grew up, she was married to Pagididda Raju, a feudatory tribal chief of Kakatiyas (who ruled the country of Andhra from Warangal between 1000 AD and 1380 AD). She was blessed with 2 daughters and one son namely Sarakka, Nagulamma and Jampanna respectively.
One of those years, Pagididda Raju was not able to pay tax imposed on the Koya tribe to the then Kakatiya emperor Pratap Rudra due to drought. As a result, the emperor declared war on the Koya tribe and killed Pagididda Raju in the battle.
Angered with grief, Sammakka entered the field along with her children. She fought valiantly against the Kakatiya army, but in the process, her both the children – Saralamma and Jampanna, were also killed. Jamanna jumped into the nearby Sampangi stream with bleeding wounds and the stream was later renamed as Jampanna vagu.
Sammakka later went to a neighbouring hill called Chilakalagutta all alone and manifested into a vermilion casket. The Koya tribes believed that Sammakka and Saralamma were manifestations of the goddess Durga and started worshipping them as deities every year.
The thrones of all four, Samakka, Saralamma, Pagididda Raju and Jampanna, are decorated with new clothes and adorned with jewellery two weeks before the festival to depict their glory.
On the first day, the traditional arrival of Saralamma on the ‘Medaram Gadde’ (platform) is celebrated, while the second day marks the arrival of Sammakka. The jatara will culminate with ‘Vana Pravesham’ (seeing off the deities back into the forests) ritual on the third day.