South Asia’s largest biennial gathering of Tribals: Conferring sacredness upon their ancestors during the Sammakka Saralamma Jatara – Telangana

The Day of the Goddesses

Open Magazine, 09 February 2018Read the fully story by V Shoba and view more photos by Harsha Vadlamani >>

ARRIVING IN DUSTY, sun-scorched Medaram in Telangana at the end of a six- hour ride on a special state bus service from Hyderabad, you are acutely aware of entering a vast non-dimensional space. As you walk the raucous grounds hosting the Sammakka Saralamma Jatara, woodsmoke, dirt and warbled music swirling all around you, the broad strokes of the festival seem familiar enough: millions of devotees come to take a holy dip in the Jampanna Vagu, a muddy stream of the Godavari now equipped with showers, and to offer coconuts and mounds of jaggery at an open-air shrine to local tribal goddesses Sammakka and Saralamma. But there’s more to it. […]

The story goes that nearly a thousand years ago, Pagididaraju, a Koya Tribal chief, his wife Sammakka, their daughter Saralamma and son Jampanna, rose up in revolt against the taxes imposed by the Kakatiya rulers on forest-dwelling communities, and died honourable deaths. To celebrate their rebellion, the village of Medaram, nestled in the Dandakaranya forests and two-and-a-half hours from Warangal since the road was asphalted in the 1970s, explodes in a festival touted as south Asia’s largest biennial gathering of Tribals.

The festival is symbolic of the culturally, if not historically, inflicted oppression on the tribes of central south India. The context may be somewhat lost in what has become a state-run event with tents and dinner buffets for visiting VIPs—among them the chief ministers of Telangana and Chhattisgarh, MPs, MLAs and minor actors—but in an India marching under the banner of religion, the jatara remains a rare refuge for communities who constantly invert accepted cultural, moral, social and sexual mores and confer sacredness upon their ancestors. […]

Accessed: 5 May 2018

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