Did you know that the second largest gathering of devotees in the world takes place in a village called Medaram in Telangana every two years? An estimated 10 million (1 crore) devotees gathered in 2012, this is second only to the Kumbh Mela.
The occasion? Sammakka Saralamma Jatara – a tribal festival honouring the goddesses in Telangana.
This tradition is just one of several unique traditions of Telangana. While the gods and goddesses of Hindu pantheon are worshipped and most of the famous Hindu festivals are celebrated in this region, here we write about some that are local to Telangana.
Sammakka Saralamma Jatara
As we mentioned earlier, this Jatara (fair) is the second largest in India after the Kumbh Mela. Held every two years at a remote village called Medaram in the Eturnagaram Wildlife Sanctuary, the fair is a tribal gathering to commemorate the fight of a mother and daughter against the reigning rulers. One of the legends mentions that Samakka was found by hunters as a baby playing among tigers. She was adopted by the head of the tribe and later married a tribal chief under the Kakatiya rulers. She fought valiantly and caused a lot of damage to the enemy after her entire family including the daughter Sarakka perished in a war with the larger, better equipped Kakatiya army. The Kakatiya Prime Minister, after seeing her bravery and valour, offers Sammakka peace and a position as the Chief Queen but she rejects the proposal to avenge her dead family. It is said that she disappeared into the forest after being severely injured in a battle and promised her people that she will look after them as long as they remembered her.
Bathukamma festival indicates the beginning of Sarad or Sharath Ruthu and is celebrated by Hindu women in the months of September/October just before Dussehra. Bathukamma is a flower stack, arranged with different unique seasonal flowers most of them with medicinal values, in seven concentric layers in the shape of temple gopuram. For 9 days during the festival, women and young girls gather with their Bathukammas in an open area, sing folks songs, clap and dance around them. On the final day of the festival, women carry the Bathukammas on their heads to water bodies and immerse them there. It is believed that the flowers used in the Bathukamma have a purifying effect on the water.
Bonalu, is a festival that celebrates Goddess Mahakali and is considered as a thanksgiving for fulfilment of vows. Bonam means Bojanam or a Meal in Telugu, an offering to the Mother Goddess. It is said that this festival started in 1813 when a plague broke out in Hyderabad and Secunderabad. The military battalion from Hyderabad which was stationed in Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh prayed at the Mahankaal temple there for the peoples’ wellbeing. After the plague ended, the battalion came back to the city and installed an idol of the goddess and every year Bonalu is celebrated to thank the goddess. The festivities are marked with devotees congregating at Mahankali temples, processions, feasts and Pothuraju (the brother of the goddess, represented by bare-bodied man, wearing a small tightly draped red dhoti, and anointed with turmeric on his body and vermilion on his forehead).
Do you know any other festivals unique to Telangana? Let us know in the comments.