Growing attraction

Published : Feb 24, 2012 00:00 IST

The predominantly tribal Medaram Jatara, held once in two years, is now a big draw with non-tribal people as well.

in Warangal

MEDARAM is a tiny village tucked deep in the forest area of Tadvai mandal in Warangal district of Andhra Pradesh. It has fewer than 500 houses, mostly those of tribal people, and access to it is difficult because of its remoteness, the unmotorable roads and the lack of a telephone network. But every two years, as if with the wave of a magic wand, the village comes alive with activity during the three-day jatara, or tribal festival.

The Medaram Jatara is a huge festival with crowds comparable to that of a mini Kumbh Mela. People throng Medaram to pay obeisance to the tribal goddesses Sammakka and Sarakka. They come from Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and different parts of Andhra Pradesh, travelling in bullock carts for several days. The number of pilgrims is increasing with each festival. An estimated 65 lakh pilgrims, including non-tribal people, came for the jatara in 2010. Officials estimate it will be a few lakhs more this year. When devotees move towards the Jampanna vagu, a small rivulet considered holy, for a holy bath, one is simply pushed ahead. Such is the surge of the crowd.

Legend has it that the tribal lord Medaraju, who ruled the area eight centuries ago, failed to pay royalty to the Kakatiya King Pratapa Rudra II because of continuous drought. The King took it as defiance, and had his imperial army invade the area. Fighting the mighty army, Medaraju, his daughter Sammakka and her daughter Sarakka were felled.

Fatally attacked, Sammakka was seen going towards Chilkalgutta before she disappeared. A casket was found at the nemali nara tree (Indian elm tree) where she was last seen. Ever since, the tribal people have revered Sammakka and Sarakka for their bravery and offered prayers to them. Tribal people believe that the spirit of these tribal warrior women descends on Medaram during the jatara.

The festivities

Hundreds of pilgrims snake their way to the altar at Medaram, even before the arrival of the deities, to offer coconuts, jaggery, money and vermilion. The entire place is filled with jaggery. There is neither a structure nor idols here. The altar is two trees standing a little apart from each other. In recent times, iron fencing has been erected around the trees. Bamboo sticks wrapped in red silk represent the two women, who are revered as deities. When the deities are brought from their forest abode, they are placed in the ground near the trees.

This ritual will take place this year on February 8 and 9. On the first day, a group of tribal priests will bring the deity Sarakka from the nearby village of Kannepally and install her at the altar in Medaram. The next day, another group of priests will bring Sammakka from the Chilkalgutta hills located 2 km away. Both deities will be at the altar on February 10 to allow devotees to pay their obeisance, and on February 11, the priests will return them to their forest abodes until the next jatara.

Role of administration

Usually, the District Joint Collector escorts Sarakka, while the District Collector and Superintendent of Police escort Sammakka. As the priests descend the Chilkalgutta hillocks carrying a casket of vermilion and the bamboo pole, the S.P. fires several rounds into the air with his weapon.

This is the moment the devotees have been waiting for. They stand on either side of the path to the altar and sacrifice sheep and hens, and the blood spills all over the pathway, as the priests make their way to the altar. Women possessed by mysterious powers try to touch the priests and men compete with them.

Some devotees hurl fowl into the air as offering to the deity, while scores of others roll on the mud road leading to the altar urging the priests to walk over them. Some devotees sprinkle the blood of the sacrificed animals into the air in a show of reverence.

All through the night, devotees brave the chill and inch forward in serpentine queues to reach the altar. Those who have been waiting for Sammakka, too, to arrive organise camps in the surrounding rice fields and in the forest. They sleep in the open, enduring the cool winds and thick fog that envelop the area.

Meanwhile, pilgrims who have fulfilled their vows slowly begin to leave the village.

The Medaram Jatara is predominantly celebrated by tribal people. But of late, non-tribal people too come in large numbers. It is worth visiting the jatara provided one is willing to put up with some minor inconveniences. The unending stream of buses disgorges pilgrims into the forests, leaving a trail of pink dust that covers the trees and makes breathing difficult. The roar of the hundreds of buses carrying pilgrims is relentless.

During the festivities, the village turns into a makeshift haven of goods and facilities. Hundreds of stalls, set up by traders from all over the country, come up on either side of the narrow pathways leading to the altar. Food, tea, coconuts, flowers, incense, vermilion, toys, cheap clothes and a plethora of pilgrims' souvenirs are on sale. There is also a variety of entertainment available in the village: from dances, roller coasters, a giant wheel, snake charmers and fortune-tellers.

Faith and development'

If faith can bring development, albeit temporary, there cannot be a greater example of this than in Medaram. Brand new transformers supply uninterrupted power, which is a rarity in normal times. Water, normally in short supply, gushes out from rural water supply schemes. A brand new RTC bus bay comes up in a field, and there is a helipad too. Unfortunately, the mess left behind after the festivities is mammoth.

What one attains while visiting the shrine is in the realm of personal experience and belief, but it is worth watching the jatara since it offers vignettes of the community ethos.

As is the case with most Indian folk traditions, no authoritative account of the history of this mega event is available. Government agencies and history departments in universities need to take on the responsibility of chronicling the event from whatever sources are available.

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment