When someone asks me to give a corresponding English word for the word Jaatara, I shake my head and reply – there is none. How can there be? Pagan traditions and pagan celebrations of the sacred feminine, have no place in the WASP tradition, that drives that language.
Well, we are here to discuss Jaatara and not the aforementioned language.
Jaatara owes its origin to the Sanskrit word that means ‘of the womb’ or ‘pertaining to the womb’ – a reverence to the sacred feminine.
Gangamma Jaatara is one such Jaatara, which is celebrated in the holy town Tirupati.
The festival occurs usually in the month of May – starting on the second Tuesday and lasts for seven days.
During the first five days, boys and young men ‘disguise’ themselves by smearing colourful substances on their near naked bodies, wear garlands or bandannas of different materials or hues and circumambulate the famous Tirupati temple, hurling abuses at the passersby.
Depending upon the day, the substance smeared on the body varies, signifying the ‘disguise’ or ‘camouflage’ of the day. The disguises are that of a monk (bairagi – with ash), stone (banda – with vermilion), heap of coal (thoati – with charcoal), limestone (sunnapugundalu – with white chalk and charcoal) and as Golden Prince (Dora – with sandal paste).
On the sixth day, the boys and men dress up as women or maatangi – the mother goddess.
The celebration peaks on the seventh day, when, the statue of the goddess is erected using clay, with coloured eggs for eyes.
People offer various offerings, including sacrificed animals, to thus erected goddess. The celebration ends with the ‘breaking’ of the goddess and distribution of the mud amongst the devotees.
Strange festival? Well yes, it has a fable behind it; as per the fable, the mother goddess and her female battalion disguised themselves in five different ways to smoke out and kill a prince or a feudal tyrant who was terrorizing the land.
The significance of this festival however goes beyond the fable. It signifies the revolt of the matriarch against the patriarchal setup and the male domination, whose centers of power lay near Tirupati’s famous Vishnu temple.