Amid Covid-19 fears, thousands throng Telangana’s Sammakka-Saralamma festival
The tribal fair draws devotees not only from Telangana, but also from other states like Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.
The threat of Covid-19 notwithstanding, thousands of Adivasis from different parts of the country thronged to the tribal village of Medaram in the dense forests of Tadvai block in Telangana’s Mulug district to participate in the four-day Sammakka-Saralamma jatara (tribal fair) that began on Wednesday.
Though this event, meant to worship two tribal women – Sammakka and her daughter Saralamma of the 13th century, in the form of deities, is actually a biennial ritual, the Koya tribes in large numbers make it a point to assemble at Medaram on “Magha Suddha Pournami” (the full-moon day of the month of Magha) every year to pay obeisance to the deities.
The biennial festival is celebrated on a big scale with a footfall of over 15 million devotees, and the annual ritual is also attended in large numbers. “This year, we are expecting that around 1.5-2 million tribal devotees will attend this annual fair to be celebrated from February 24 to 27,” Mulugu collector Krishna Aditya said.
The tribal fair draws devotees not only from Telangana, but also from other states like Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. “Even non-tribal devotees attend this fair in large numbers,” the collector said.
The tribals believe that Sammakka and Saralamma had laid down their lives fighting the mighty emperors of the Kakatiya dynasty who had attacked their little tribal hamlet demanding royalty and sought to destroy their life and culture.
According to the district authorities, permanent arrangements are already in place at Medaram village since it continues to attract visitors regularly. For the ongoing mini-jatara, the district administration has spent nearly ₹1.5 crore to make various arrangements.
“We have made all the arrangements such as provision of drinking water facilities, sanitation, desilting of wells, installation of taps, erection of lighting facilities, construction of temporary compartments for dress-changing, barricading, levelling of pathways, food arrangements etc,” Aditya said.
However, what is worrying for the authorities is the potential threat of the spread of Covid-19 in such a huge congregation. “It is virtually impossible to screen such a huge number of tribal devotees for Covid-19 or enforce restrictions on their gathering in such a small village,” Mulugu district medical and health officer Dr A Appaiah, admitted.
He, however, said the authorities had been undertaking extensive campaigns among the devotees to wear masks, use hand sanitisers and maintain social distance as far as possible, using public address systems and distribution of pamphlets.
“We have set up medical camps at different locations around the fair so that anybody found with any symptoms could be immediately attended to. If any positive cases surface in the area, arrangements have been made to shift them and those associated with them to Mulug district hospital for treatment,” he said.
He admits that there is a possibility of the Covid-19 disease being carried through devotees from Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh, where new cases were surfacing. “We thought of putting up testing centres at the inter-state borders, but we dropped the idea because of practical issues,” Appaiah said.
The collectors, too, made an appeal to the tribal devotees to follow the Covid-19 protocols and avoid attending the fair, if they have any symptoms.
State minister for tribal welfare Satyavathi Rathod, who prayed to the deity on the first day of the tribal fair, said all arrangements had been made to see that the devotees would not face any health problems at the fair.