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Tirupati Gangamma


Tamarapu Sampath Kumaran

About the Author: Mr T Sampath Kumaran is a freelance writer. He regularly contributes articles on Management, Business, Ancient Temples, and Temple Architecture to many leading Dailies and Magazines. His articles are popular in “The Young World section” of THE HINDU His e-books on nature, environment, festivals and different cultures of people around the world are educative and of special interest to the young. His e-books – Guide to 108 Divya Desams, Guide to 275 Siva Sthalams, The Path of Ramanuja, Guide to Kancheepuram and Hinduism in a nutshell have been well received in the religious circle. He was associated in the renovation and production of two Documentary films on Nava Tirupathi Temples, and Tirukkurungudi Temple in Tamilnadu.

Acknowledgement: I wish to express my gratitude to the authors from whose works I gathered the details for this book, and Courtesy, Google for some of the photographs. Special thanks to www.scribd.com for hosting my e-books.

India is a land of unique festivals, retaining its culture and historical significance; the Indian villages are no exception. The rural Indian boasts some of the oldest and exceptional traditions that have grown as distinguished festivals that not only serve entertainment, but also speaks volumes about the Indian heritage and history. The geographic divisions of India definitely divide the language, rituals and festivals. However, the spirits with which the Indian village festivals are celebrated remain, predominantly similar. The typical rural festivals of India are Jatara Festival. Tirupati, one of the most famous pilgrim centers for Lord Venkateswara. also have several other cultural heritages to its credit. Goddess Gangamma is believed to have been born in Tirupati in particular at Avilala, a suburb, and every year “jatara” a cultural procession will be performed by the people of Tirupati. A popular folk deity of Rayalaseema, Gangamma is worshipped as the younger sister of Lord Venkateswara. The ‘jatara’ is ritualistically observed by native residents of the old town. This Jatara is considered to be an important event after Lord Venkateswara's annual Brahmotsavams in Tirupati. Lakhs of devotees of all faith throng the temple every year and worship the goddess. Gangamma is the folk deity of thousands of residents of Tirupati, whose annual festival is observed in the first fortnight of May every year. In the earlier days, devotees visiting Tirumala offered prayers at this temple of Gangamma before embarking on a holy trek to the hills. As a birth day

gift from a brother to his sister, the Tirumala temple management sends

“Parisu”, an auspicious gift on behalf of Lord Venkateswara, which includes sarees, turmeric, kumkum, bangles etc., to Gangamma during the Jatara. Gangamma temple is known as Tataiah gunta Gangamma. According to temple records, `Tataiahgunta' was associated with a 16th Century devotee, `Tirumala Thathacharyulu', who was said to have built a `Gunta' (tank) and consecrated the temple near it.

According to folklore, Legend has it that the local chieftain “Palegadu” - a thug - used to seduce beautiful women. As per his commands, newly-wed women were forced to spend their first wedded night with him. The women prayed to Goddess Jaganmatha who took birth as Gangamma, at Avilala village, near Tirupati. When she grew up, the chieftain cast his lustful eyes on her. Palegadu insulted Gangamma, by pulling her hand in full public view when the latter rejected him. When She showed her frightening “Viswaroopam” to him, to escape death, the chieftain fled and

hid himself in an unidentified location. In search of him, the Goddess wore several attires for three days. On the fourth day, she lured the chieftain attired as his boss (dora). Mistaking her for his boss, the chieftain came into the public, only to be slained by her. As a thanksgiving gesture to the Jaganmatha in the form of Goddess Gangamma, this celebration is being held by the locals. A huge clay image of the goddess is being prepared in the temple ahead of the Jatara, for the event, which will be smashed by the priests after the weeklong festival.

To signal the beginning of the ‘Ganga Jatara, after performing ‘Abhishekam', the priest ties the ‘Vadibalu' - the turmeric paste - to the ‘Viswaroopa Sthupam' situated in front of the temple at Thathayagunta. Devotees clamour to get the holy turmeric paste

The festival begins past Tuesday midnight with `Chatimpu', the traditional announcement of the commencement of Jatara when the temple priests walk through the streets to announce the beginning of the fete by beating traditional drums.

As Gangamma is believed to hail from Avilala village situated south of Tirupati, the village elders bring gifts of saree, fruits and flowers from the village to the temple, after the ‘Chatimpu' is made on the outskirts. The announcement is also believed to be a caution to the residents of the erstwhile town limits that they should not leave the town till the festival is over.

During the Ganga Jatara ‘Worshipping’ here means not just paying obeisance to the deity with folded hands, but also following the customs on donning various roles. During the weeklong festivities, devotees put on the prescribed `vesham' every day, wearing several attires as the Bhairagi, Banda, Thoti and Dora veshams and criss-cross the streets of Tirupati offering prayers en route in the temples of different folk goddesses, as is the convention from time immemorial.

According to mythology, Goddess Adi Parashakti manifested as Tirupati Gangamma to eliminate the ‘Palegadu' (local chieftain), who ruled the region, to save the womenfolk from this womaniser. As the chieftain went

into hiding fearing for life, Gangamma came in various guises everyday to capture him. This is being practiced even today by the devotees, who don various roles like ‘Bairagi Vesham', ‘Banda Vesham', ‘Thoti Vesham', ‘Dora Vesham', ‘Mathangi' etc. While appearing in a different guise is the unique feature of the ‘Tirupati Ganga Jatara', To appease the goddess, devotees follow the practice of wandering in various outfits and guises (‘Veshalu’) such as ‘Banda vesham’,‘Thoti vesham’, ‘Sunnapu kundalu’, ‘Dora vesham’, ‘Mathangi vesham’, ‘Sapparalu’ and ‘Perantaalu’, etc. People moving on the road smearing black, white and red paint all over their body may appear strange for outsiders, but the locals religiously adhere to the age-old traditions and customs of the town out of devotion and fear towards their revered goddess. As Mathangi is believed to be a Goddess with a thousand eyes all over her body, devotees mark black and red spots all over their torso and limbs to get a “near-perfect” look. As is the practice, they tie a yellow-red cloth on the head resembling a plait. Carrying ‘Vadibalu’ containing a ‘kumkuma bharine’, blouse piece, turmeric and a comb as an offering to the Goddess, they walked all the way to the temple, all the while dancing to the rhythmic beats of the traditional percussionists. The ‘Dora’ vesham is being donned on the fifth day exclusively by members of the Kaikala and Chakali castes, who are revered as representatives of the Goddess on the particular day. Devotees, especially children, make merry on the streets by smearing limestone/sandal paste all over the body for ‘Bairagi Vesham’ on the second day, ‘kumkum’ paste resembling blood on the third day for ‘Banda Vesham’ and coal powder the next day for ‘Thoti vesham’ etc. ‘Banda Vesham’ is marked by a predominantly red hue. Devotees typically smear red paint/powder and mark black and white dots on their bodies,

adorn garlands made of puffed rice grains (borugulu), and roam on the streets, before offering prayers at the Thathayagunta Gangamma temple. The ‘red' here refers to blood and the same is smeared across the body to appease the Goddess.

‘Thathayagunta Gangamma Jatara’, the annual folk festival of Tirupati, gets colourful by the passing day with a sudden rise in the number of children and youngsters religiously taking part in the rituals. Male devotees dress as females, tie a yellow cloth over their head as a braid and drape it with jasmine flowers. Later, they dance on the streets, rhythmic to the beating of traditional drums and the trumpet-like `Kommu'.

Be it any vesham, the kids and youth are the first to take to revelry. It is common to see children and youngsters with ash, kumkum or coal powder smeared all over their body walking on the streets, booing the passers by. A peculiar feature of the festival is that devotees who walk along the roads to the temple putting on a range of `veshams' would be mouthing certain `obscene verses' as is the tradition and people in fact do not take affront to it but look at it as blessings from goddess Gangamma ‘Sunnapu Kundalu’ will be offered to the deity on Monday, while a special ‘Abhishekam’ will be performed on Tuesday.
‘Gangamma Jatara’, the folk festival of Tirupati comes to a colourful end on

the following Tuesday midnight. After nightlong celebrations, in the wee hours of Wednesday, the priests smash the huge earthen statue of the goddess erected outside the temple at the appointed time. The slaying of the clay idol of Gangamma in the early hours of Wednesday marks the culmination of the annual festival.

It would touch off a scramble among devotees for a piece of the clay, which they consider is the elixir for all their physical, mental and economic ills.

Devotees mix the clay smithereens in water and consume it as `Prasadam', as it is in the Indian culture to treat soil as mother and Goddess. As is the practice, local people start pouring into the temple right from Monday night and spend the whole of Tuesday in the temple and its vicinity.

The interesting feature of the final day is the mode of travel to the temple. Though the most preferred way to the temple is on foot, irrespective of the distance from their residence to the temple, the devout take a more strenuous route by performing ‘Sashtaanga Namaskaram’ on the road throughout. They roll a coconut on the road and when it stops, start falling to the ground with stretched hands and legs offering prayers. The process continues till they reach the temple.

Another practice in vogue among women is the draping of neem leaves and twigs from the shoulders to the anklets, which serves as a dress. Women, irrespective of age, don the dress and offer prayers at the temple as a fulfillment of vows.

Many Muslim women too pay obeisance at the temple early in the morning, showing that Gangamma is revered irrespective of caste or religion

From the very starting day onwards, a special liquid food called Ambali is prepared by devotees and supplied to other devotees. Ambali is nothing but a hard drink prepared using Raagi, curd, water, salt and onions. Drumbeats - `Sapparalu' is a colourful temple-like structure made of bamboos, borne by the devotees over their shoulder, piercing it into the flesh. Animal sacrifice is performed on the last day on a large scale, despite a ban.

Devotees carry ‘Sapparalu’, a mansion-like structure made of bamboo, on their back on the last day. They danced merrily to the tunes of traditional drumbeats (Dappu) all the way to the temple.

The devotees march towards the spruced-up shrine in groups, each led by a band of drummers and a man carrying the decorated ‘Sapralu'. They danced their way down to the temple as is the convention during the fete from the days of yore. The temple administration of Tataiah Gunta Gangamma has made a diamond crown for the folk goddess last year at a cost of Rs 72 lakh which would be adorned on the goddess on Tuesday.

The slaying of the clay idol of Gangamma in the early hours of Wednesday marks the culmination of the annual festival. People worship this goddess with great belief, on Tuesdays and Fridays by offering “Pongalu” to the deity. The temple city of Tirupati is normally drowned in the din produced by the drum beats (Thappetlu) early on Tuesday as batches of devotees strolled towards the Gangamma temple for the conventional ‘Pongalu'

Every inch of the temple and its surroundings was filled with devotees, mostly women, offering the traditional ‘Pongalu' to the folk goddess for the health and prosperity of their families. Local people believe that the folk goddess safeguards all the four contours of the Tirupati and its downtown areas from the evil effects of spirits and

communicable diseases and it is to propitiate the goddess that the local people celebrate the folk festival with lot of devotion, while it is fun and frolic for the men, especially the youth. Thousands of devotees offer prayers to the deity of Gangamma decked up in a way befitting the occasion. The weeklong Tirupati Gangamma jatara, the annual folk festival, reaches a grand finale in the early hours of Wednesday.

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