The popular tribal festival, conducted in Medaram of Telangana’s Mulugu district, is all set to be held this year from February 16 to 19.

A box with the invitation to Medaram Jatharam, a tribal festival in TelanganaPhoto by special arrangement
news Culture Saturday, February 12, 2022 - 15:08

The Medaram Jathara, popularly known as Sammaka Saralamma Jathara, is one of the largest tribal religious congregations in India. The annual tribal festival, conducted in Medaram of Telangana’s Mulugu district, will be held this year from February 16 to 19. The invitations for the religious festival, usually held in February, are ready and are being shipped to guests from across the country. The Tribal Welfare Department of Telangana has prepared the special invitation and guests who receive it will also receive tribal art and craft in a gift box along with the invitation.

Every year, for the last three years, the Tribal Welfare Department of Telangana has been coordinating efforts to plan a special invitation every year. This year the special invite is being sent out to Chief Ministers, Union Ministers, and other national and state level dignitaries. The gift box contains an invitation, a coffee table book, Koya and Gond community’s paintings, Naikpod masks, Oja Gond crafts, Banjara crafts and information stickers.

The gift box will present to the recipient an overview of the famous Jathara. It will also include a daily programme schedule of the events to be held between February 16 and 19. The coffee table book, titled ‘The Legend of Medaram’, is the main highlight of the gift box. The book describes briefly the essential features of the life and culture of the tribes of Telangana with attractive representational images. The Koya or Gond paintings in the gift box have been made by young artists from the community and are beautifully framed. Another highlight is the Naikpod mask Potharaju, made by the Naikpod tribals and framed in a transparent box. A brass metal craft - a tortoise - made cleverly by the Oja Gonds is also part of the box. A potli or a pouch, which is a handicraft of the Lambada community, is also present in the box. The pouch will have the sacred turmeric powder of the Goddess Sri Sammakka. Information stickers explaining the details and significance of the contents of the special invite are also made available in the box.

Vivek Joseph, Hyderabad-based independent researcher and social worker who has researched the religious culture of the Telangana communities, felt the gift box is representative of centuries of confluence and interaction of indigenous peoples and cultures from Telangana and beyond. “While it is a commemoration of the adivasi Koyas, for goddesses whom the Koyas consider daughters of the community, the jatara has also long brought in worshippers from other communities, particularly adivasis in the Telugu states and its neighbours. Such dynamics of interaction have only increased with modernisation and shifting of communal boundaries,” he said.

Explaining the significance of the artefacts and throwing light on the tribal communities Vivek said, “While the paintings in the box are from larger adivasi communities such as the Koya and Gond, the other items represent smaller communities of adivasi and nomadic tribal people that have also become tied to Medaram. The Wojaris or Oja Gonds, a nomadic tribal brass founders community, have their ancient craft highlighted and the nomadic Banjara or Lambada their fabrics. One gift also indicates the evolution amongst these communities of their own religious traditions in relation to Samakka and Saralamma.”

The mask from Naikpods, an Adivasi community traditionally engaged in shifting cultivation, is of Potaraju, who is considered the brother of local goddesses such as Pochamma and Yellamma widely worshipped by Telugu Dalit-Bahujan communities. “For the vast numbers of devotees from these communities and the Naikpods who have increasingly participated in the Jatara in recent decades, Samakka and Saralamma are worshipped in much the same way as their local goddesses, with men possessed by Potaraju being a common sight now at Medaram,” added Vivek.

The box, according to Vivek, is an interesting way of giving recognition to these adivasi and nomadic peoples and their relationship with the jathara. This comes at a time when the heightened influx of non-tribal communities and commercialisation have brought increased ecological destruction to the traditional lands of adivasi people in and around Medaram. Many,  particularly the Koya community, fear that this is a cultural appropriation of their beliefs.

Meanwhile, preparations are in full swing to welcome the lakhs of guests arriving, to be a part of the annual festival. Last year, around 80 lakh people were reported to have participated in the annual religious congregation and this year the number is expected to increase because the COVID-19 pandemic situation is better controlled than last year. Speaking to TNM, Mulugu district additional collector Ila Tripathi said, “We are well prepared. We have been seeing a heavy rush since Sankranti. Every Wednesday, around 2-4 lakh people gather. They have been coming in batches. Special arrangements have been made and staff has been deployed in large numbers to ensure everything goes smoothly.  We are focusing on sanitation because of prevailing COVID-19 conditions.”

Photos by special arrangement

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