Mana Sanskriti (Our Culture)

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Chief Editor: Sreenivasarao Vepachedu, PhD, LLM

Issue 74, supplement 1

5105 Kali Era , Swabhanu Year, Phalguna  month
1925 Salivahana Era , Swabhanu Year,
Phalguna  month
2061 Vikramarka Era,
Swabhanu Year, Phalguna  month
 2004 AD, March

Medaram Jatara (Medaram Festival)
Medaram is a village in the “dandakaaranya” (dandaka forest ) area of the Mulugu taluk of Warangal district, about 150-km away from Warangal city. Here Sammakka Jatara, non-Vedic and non-Brahminical festival is celebrated once in two years on a very large scale for four days in January-February.  It is a rare confluence of different tribes and castes and their traditions at this biennial Indian fair.  Medaram Festival is considered to be the largest festival in the South India and is one of the largest festivals in the world.  This year (2004), it was estimated that approximately six million devotees visited the shrine. (It was estimated that 2 million Hajj pilgrims participated in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, this year).

History, Mythology and practices: According to a tribal story, about 6-7 centuries ago, a group of Koya Indians traveling through the dandakaaranya found a little girl playing with tigers. The head of the tribe adopted and named her Sammakka.  She married the headman of a neighboring village. Saaralamma was her daughter.  The Koya Indians were a tributary to the Kakatiyas, who ruled the country of Andhra from Warangal City between 1000 AD and 1380 AD.  Once, the Koyas assisted the Kakatiyas in a war.  After sometime, there was a severe drought that lasted for years and as a result the mighty Godavari River dried up.  Koyas didn’t have even food to eat.  However, the Kakatiyas insisted on the payment of taxes.   The Kakatiya emperor sent his forces to teach the Koyas a lesson and collect taxes and the Koyas had no option but to resist.  After a bitter war, the Kakatiya Prime Minister visited war ravaged Koya kingdom. By then most of the Koya chiefs had fallen in battle.  The Prime Minister proposed peace and offered Sammakka a place in the emperor’s harem as the chief queen.  Samakka turned down the offer and resolved to continue the fight to avenge the dead.  The battle continued and Samakka was wounded.  Samakka told her people that as long as they remembered her, she would protect them.  Then, she cursed the Kaktiya dynasty to perish and disappeared into the deep forest. The Koyas searched for their queen and found only a red ochre box, her bangles and the pug-marks of a huge tigress.  Soon after, Muslim invaders destroyed the Kakatiya dynasty.  Since then, the Koyas, Waddaras and other Indian tribes and castes have been holding festivals in memory of Sammakka and Saralamma regularly.

There is no permanent idol of the deity.   It is said that a Koya boy who gets a vision before the festival, searches in the forest for a week without food and sleep and finally brings the goddesses in the farm of two vermilion caskets tied to a piece of bamboo, one representing the main deity Sammakka and the other her daughter Saarakka or Saaralamma. The actual festival begins in the month of Magha, on Suddha Pournami (full moon day) evening when Saaralamma would be traditionally brought from Kanneboyinapalle, a village in the forest, and installed on a gaddi (the throne or platform), an earthen platform raised under a tree.  Animals are sacrificed and intoxicants such as liquor are widely used.

Hundreds of people who are often possessed by the goddess come there dancing ecstatically throughout their journey.  The special offering to the deity is jaggery.  Some offer jaggery equal to their weight and distribute.  It is a rare opportunity to witness some ancient practices especially pabba, Shiva sathi (sathi means lady) and Lakshmi Devaras.  Shiva sathis are women who go into trance and bless the childless women to have children and the process of that blessing is called pabba.  The belief is that those who had the blessings of Sammakka-Saralamma through the words of Shiva sathis would have children.  Children get their heads tonsured. Young girls accompanied by their parents performed special prayers with the help of Shiva sathis and Lakshmi Devaras to get suitable husbands.

Festival 2004: This year, Magha Suddha Pournami fell on Wednesday, February 4, 2004.  Large screens were erected in the village to project the proceedings at the gaddelu (thrones) in order to reduce stampede at the site. The newly constructed bathing ghats at the Jampannavagu rivulet were full of activity, where the devotees took a holy. Temporary lodging facilities were arranged in about 7 kilometers of area around the thrones of Sammakka and Saralamma.

The priests are Koya Indians. The tribal priests, Ellaiah Empalli, Narsaiah Kokkari, Baburao Chanda, Munender Siddaboina and Laxmanrao Siddaboina, accompanied by the district Collector, Siva Sankar N., and the Superintendent of Police, Prabhat Nalin, returned from the Chilakala Gutta hillocks, about 2 km from Medaram village, with a symbol of Sammakka and installed it at the jatara site .

Millions of other Indian tribes from various states in the Indian Union, mainly the five central Indian states, namely Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Chattisgarh, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, congregate at Medaram during the celebrations.  For the tribals who came in large numbers from Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Maharashtra and the forest tracts of Eturunagaram, Bhadrachalam, Venkatapuram, Manuguru and other areas of Andhra Pradesh, the festival had a spiritual relevance. The non-tribals, most of them unaware of the historic significance of the festival, thronged the place for fun carrying cartons of liquor .

Medaram jatara was also held in various parts of Telangana, such as Rekurthi, Chintakunta villages on the outskirts of Karimnagar town, Obulapur in Sircilla mandal, Ranganayakula gutta in Huzurabad mandal, Illanthakunta mandal, Godavarikhani, Bheemadevarapally, Husnabad mandals and other places.

Coconuts, jaggery and fowl selling shops did a roaring business during the jatara as pilgrims offered the presiding deities with the jaggery, coconuts and fowls.  The police made adequate security arrangements at the jatara villages this year. The Andhra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation operated hundreds of special buses (about 2000 buses) to the Medaram jatara from various parts the state.

Notes and References:
1. danDakaaranya
: Sri Rama along with his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana made Dandaka forest his abode for a while during his 14-year exile in the forest.  It is here that Lakshmana cut off the ears and nose of Surpanakha, sister of Emperor Ravana of Sri Lanka; Rama destroyed 14-thousand strong infantry of Khara, Dushana and Trisira; Rama killed Maricha; Ravana abducted Sita and killed Jatayu. (Aranyaparva of Ramayana)

Ikshvaku was the ruler of the kingdom that extended from Vindhya Mountains to Himalaya Mountains. He had hundred sons, among them Danda (danDa), Vikushi, and Nimi were famous.  After Ikshvaku, Danda became the ruler.  Danda built a new capital called Madhumatta and ruled the country.  Danda was the reincarnation of an asura, Krodhahanta.  According to Brahmanda purana, Danda participated in Deva-asura war and destroyed thousands of Asuras.  One day he went to the forest for hunting.  There, he saw Araa, the daughter of Sukracharya who was the preceptor and guru of Asuras.  Danda raped her.  Araa complained to her father.  Sukracharya suggested her to do penance and then cursed by rain of fire on Danda and destroyed Danda and his kingdom, which became an uninhabitable forest, called dandakaranya. (Uttara Ramayana).  Andhra Pradesh falls into dandakaranya area.

2. "A tide of piety and devotion at Medaram jatara," The Hindu, February 6, 2004.
3. Millions of pilgrims pray outside Mecca as Hajj nears end, USA Today, 1/30/2004;
5. Colorful Start to Sammakka-Sarakka Jatara, The Hindu, February 5, 2004.
6. Gaddenekkina saaralamma, Vaartha, February 4, 2004.
7. Gaddepai koluvaina saaralamma, Andhrabhoomi, February 4, 2004.
8. Janaranyam dandakaaranyam, Andhrabhoomi, February 3, 2004.
9. Sammakka-saralakka jatara neti nunche, Andhrajyothi, February 4, 2004.

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Vepachedu Educational Foundation, Inc
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