Thousands of devotees have started descending on Medaram in Telangana's Mulugu district for Sammakka Sarakka Jatara, billed as the largest tribal fair in Asia.

The stage is set for the four-day biennial event, which will kick-off on February 16 at the village, about 240 km from Hyderabad.

Authorities expect 1.25 crore devotees for the event, often described as Telangana's Kumbh Mela. Tribals and non-tribals from various parts of Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and other states will converge for the fair, which marks celebration of tribal traditions.

An estimated four lakh devotees have already visited Medaram during the last few days ahead of the Jatara also called as Sammakka-Saralamma Jatara.

Adivasis living in forest fringe habitations in several states along the river Godavari congregate once in two years to celebrate the valour of legendary warriors Sammakka and Sarakka.

The tribals treat them as goddesses and hail their bravery in trying to protect them. Belonging to koya tribe, the mother-daughter duo died while fighting against Kakatiya empire about eight centuries ago.

The legend is that Sammakka and her daughter Saralamma fought against levy of taxes on tribals during drought conditions by the then Kakatiya rulers in the 12th century.

Tribal king Medaraju was ruling the tribal habitations on the banks of river Godavari, and was supposed to pay a royalty to the Kakatiya kings. However, due to severe prolonged drought, Medaraju failed to pay a royalty. Treating it as defiance, the Kakatiya Kings invaded the region. Fighting with the Kakatiya army, Medaraju and all kin died. His daughter Sammakka and her daughter Sarakka or Saralamma too died in the fight.

According to local lore, Sammakka, who was fatigued, went above the Chilukalagutta hillocks and disappeared. The Adivasis who reportedly went in search of her only found a casket of vermilion under a bamboo tree.

Once every two years, the tribal priests offer prayers at the bamboo grove and bring a casket of vermilion and bamboo stick wrapped in red cloth symbolising Sammakka, whom they consider their deity. A day before, the priest do similar ritual at Kannepalli village, four kilometers from Medaram and bring the deity Sarakka. Both are installed under the Indian Elm tree at Medaram village and thus begin the Jatara. After three days, they take back the deities and leave them in the forest until the next Jatara.

The poor tribals offer jaggery of their weight considering it to be gold. They also offer red blouse pieces, vermilion, and turmeric to the deities in large quantities. They take a little part of the same as prasadam from the altar back to their homes.

Devotees also take holy dip in Jampanna Vagu, a tributary of Godavari river. Jampanna was the tribal warrior and the son of tribal Goddess Sammakka who was killed in a war with Kakatiya Army. The tribals believe that a dip in the stream washes off their sins.

Chief Secretary Somesh Kumar and Director General of Police Mahender Reddy already visited Medaram to review the arrangements for the fair. Somesh Kumar directed all government departments to work with coordination to ensure smooth conduct of darshan and other rituals.

About 10,000 policemen will be deployed as part of the massive security arrangements for the fair. Police have also set up 382 CCTV cameras and two drone cameras. Senior officers will monitor the massive gathering round the clock on 20 display screens at the command control room in Medaram.

Thousands of vehicles carrying devotees have made a beeline to Medaram. The DGP said they were leaving no stone unturned to ensure peaceful and smooth conduct of the Jatara.

Traffic police expect movement of 3.5 lakh private vehicles and 4,000 buses of Telangana Road Transport Corporation (TSRTC). The police chief said this poses a great challenge to the police to regulate vehicular traffic and parking.

As many as 33 parking places and 37 vehicle holding points were earmarked to regulate the flow of vehicles. For every four kilometres, one police outpost was set up.

The event is being held with Covid-19 protocol. The police department will also be distributing face masks and sanitiser kits to all policemen on duty. The police have also set up 50 public information centres to guide the devotees.

Various departments have undertaken different works to provide all the necessary facilities for the devotees. These include sprucing up bathing ghats along Jampanna Vagu.

TSRTC has already announced that it will operate 3,845 buses for Medaram Jatara.

It will operate these buses from 51 points across Telangana and neighbouring Maharashtra and is expected to ferry 23 lakh passengers. The TSRTC is expected to clock a revenue of Rs 32 crore from these operations.