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Telangana’s most popular tribal carnival

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Chef Praveen Abraham Chef Instructor Culinary Academy Of India

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Festivals and religious gatherings with a huge number of people are common in India. However, huge festivals with no Vedic or Brahminic influences, not so much. This is what sets the Sammakka Saralmma Jatra apart. Touted as Telangana’s Kumbh Mela, this festival celebrates two popular tribal goddesses, Sammakka and Saralamma, and recalls stories of their brave spirit.

The Samakka Saralmma (commonly abbreviated as ‘Sarakka’) is the largest repeating tribal goddesses congregation in the world. The Jatra is held every two years over a four-day period in the village of Medaram. Located 90 km from the city of Warangal, Medaram is the epicenter of the Sarakka Jatra. The Jatra hosts 13 million (1.3 crores) people biennially and is classified as a state festival of Telangana. Tribal devotees from different states of India including Karnataka, Jharkhand, M.P, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, and Maharastra partake in this tribal confluence.

The Legend Behind Sarakka Jathra

The story of the Sarakka Jatra celebrates the fight of the mother and daughter pair, Samakka and Saralamma respectively. According to legends, a tribal hunting party in the 13th century found a newborn girl, Samakka, in the forest emitting light while playing with tigers. The party took the baby back to the tribe where after being adopted by the head of the tribe and groomed as a chief. Later, she was married to the tribal chief of the neighboring tribe, the Koyas, eventually giving birth to two daughters and one son.

The region where the Koyas resided was ruled by the Kakatiyas who imposed taxes on the Koya tribe. The Koyas were unable to pay these taxes, resulting in the Kakatiyas declaring on the small tribe. As a huge organized army battalion fought a small tribe where members had turned into warriors overnight, victory was certain. As the tribe fought back valiantly, Sammakka had almost won when Saralamma died in her battle. After her loss, a lonely Samakka is said to have gone to a hill named Chilakalagutta where she manifested into a vermillion casket (Kumkum Bharani).

Samakka’s son, Jampanna, was also felled in the attack where his body tumbled into the Sampagni vaagu(stream). The place was renamed the Jampanna vaagu and devotees believe that Sammakka and Saralamma were manifestations of the Adi Parashakti trying to protect them. The Jatra is held at a time when it is believed that these goddesses visit the tribe.

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How Sarakka Jatra is Celebrated

Spread over four days, the Sarakka Jatra starts with the arrival of the goddesses to Medaram forest and ends with their exit into the forest. During the first day, Sarakka’s and her husband, Pagididda Raju, idols are carried into Medaram from Kannepalli and Ponnugondla respectively. The second day involves carrying Sammakka’s idol and the kumkum casket to Medrama after long and secretive pujas by the Koya tribe on the hill where the casket is kept. Govind Raju, Sammakka’s husband, has his idol carried from Kondai to Medaram.

The third day is the day where Adi Parashakti and his manifestations are worshipped. Sammakka and Saralmma, along with their consorts are worshipped. Devotees also dip themselves in the Jampanna vaagu. The most common offering of this festival is jaggery. Devotees call this bangaram (gold) and offer a jaggery amount equal to their own weight as thanksgiving in fulfillment of their vows. Money, sari, bagels, gold, and coconuts are also offered at the altar. Some members also offer country liquor and meat to the deities. On the final day, the kumkum casket is carried back to Chilakalagutta hill in the forest where it stays until the next Jatra.

Tribal Food During Sarakka Jatra

The food cooked and served during the Jatra feature the culinary heritage of the Adivasi tribes. All food is natural, safe, and nutritious. Animal sacrifice is part of the tradition and consuming non-vegetarian food is commonplace in the Jatra. Kodo (cow grass millet) and Kutki (little millet) are the most common grains during the Jatra. These are either boiled to a broth or cooked as a dry cereal. For the first two meals, the broth is preferred whereas dry cereal is eaten for dinner along with vegetables.

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Most of the non-vegetarian meats feature meats hard to find in the city. Deer, goat, wild rabbit, fowls, pigeons, and peacocks, are consumed during the Jatra and these are usually cooked in a very easy way using simple marinations of spices in either curd or lime juice. Overall, the food is extremely tasty and the use of fewer ingredients means there’s no overly complex battle involving different flavor profiles and textures.

This simple, harmonious deserves the spotlight, and this is why I chose the Sarakka Jatra for my portfolio project.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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