India’s largest tribal fair draws millions

February 21st, 2008 - 2:52 pm ICT by admin  

Warangal (Andhra Pradesh), Feb 21 (IANS) It is a sea of humanity at the four-day Sammakka Sarakka Jatra, India’s largest tribal fair here, with millions of people gathered from many parts of India to worship their tribal deities. Attired in their best costumes and dancing to folk tunes and drum beats, the tribes people began gathering for the fair from Wednesday at Medaramm, a tiny village amid thick forests, about 110 km from Warangal city.

The tribals have arrived from different parts of Andhra Pradesh and neighbouring states like Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa to worship two legendary tribal women - Sammakka and Sarakka.

The event, held once in two years, is also termed the tribal Kumbh Mela as the scenes here are similar to the religious mega-fairs held on the banks of the Ganges and the Narmada. The crowd during the four-day fair is expected to reach eight million.

According to officials, two million people are already at the fair, which began with the tribal priests bringing goddess Sarakka - also known as Saralamma - after prayers at Kanneboinapalli village, eight km from Medaram.

The devotees walk behind in the path trod by Sarakka in the belief it will bring happiness and prosperity to them.

Joint Collector K. Srinivasa Raju and other government officials accompanied the priests as per custom. It took nearly an hour for them to reach the main altar at Medaram village.

Late in the evening the deity was seated on ‘gadde’ (pedestal), as tens of thousands of devotees vied with each other to touch the pedestal, swaying deliriously to music.

Earlier, thousands took a holy dip in the Jampanna Vagu, a rivulet, before offering obeisance to the deity. Many women believe a bath in the rivulet will get them good husbands.

As the unmarried girls took the dip, priests blessed them. ‘Shiva sathis’ (wives of Lord Shiva) applied turmeric all over the bodies of the girls and sprinkled vermilion on them.

The police had a tough time controlling the crowds, as pilgrims walked for over 12 km to reach Medaram. Vehicles on Hanamkonda-Pasra Road were stranded for over 10 km.

The narrow roads and lack of basic amenities added to the woes of the pilgrims. Though the district administration arranged 36,000 makeshift toilets, they were not enough.

The pilgrims also complained of drinking water shortage.

The crowds are expected to reach their peak Thursday evening when Sammakka, mother of Sarakka, will be brought to the altar from Chilkalagutta and placed on the ‘gadde’.

The deities will remain there till Saturday evening, when the tribal priests take them back to the villages.

It is believed that the goddesses visit the tribals during the ‘jatra’. The devotees, many high on liquor, weigh themselves against jaggery and offer it to the deities. They also sacrifice goats and chicken.

Traders do brisk business as devotees buy massive jaggery blocks, thousands of goats and chicken, vermilion caskets and bottles of liquor.

Legend has it that about 1,000 years ago, a group of Koya tribals passing through the region found a little girl playing with a tigress. The head of the tribe adopted and named her Sammakka. She married the headman of a neighbouring village and Sarakka was born to them.

Sammakka stood up against the Kakatiyas - who ruled Andhra from Warangal between 1000 and 1380 AD - when they tried to collect taxes from Koyas despite a severe drought. The rulers killed many tribals and Sammakka fought against them to avenge the killings.

During the fighting, Samakka and her daughter Sarakka were injured. She told the Koyas that as long as they remembered her, she would protect them. She cursed the Kakatiya dynasty that they would perish and disappeared into the forest.

Koyas searched for their queen but found only her bangles and the pugmarks of a tigress. Later, Muslim invaders destroyed the Kakatiya dynasty. Since then the tribals have been holding the fair in memory of the two women, whom they revere as goddesses.

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