Andhra Pradesh Culture Educational Legal Nation OBCs Telangana Women

Incredible journey of a Koya woman

HYDERABAD: The sight of an aircraft zooming in the night sky, vanishing in the clouds and reappearing with its flashing lights, roaring its way to unknown faraway places is something that never ceases to amaze children.

While the innocent desires of many such children are often forgotten or pushed aside as they become adults, Jhansi Rani, a Koyathur (Koya) tribe member from a remote village in Bhadradri Kothagudem district, made her dreams come true.

She served as an air hostess for 25 years, but that’s not all. At 62, she continues to help many Adivasi girls and is a living example that one can’t really stop working towards a cause that they really believe in. Having studied in a convent school in Kothagudem, Jhansi completed her Intermediate and grabbed the opportunity for an interview with Indian Airlines.

At 19, she had to compete with 100 other young women (mostly from the Brahmin and Anglo-Indian communities) to be one among the selected 16. Despite the disparity in social capital, she, with her determined nature and fluency in Telugu, Hindi, English and Urdu, managed to secure one of the positions.

In 1990, she took a break and completed her Bachelors and Masters in Communication and Journalism from the Osmania University Arts College. It was during her studying days that she visited the Sammakka Saralamma Jatara, the largest tribal festival in Asia, in Medaram (in present day Mulugu district) .

“I was absolutely fascinated by the sight of 35 lakh devotees (mostly non-tribals) attending the jatara with such an unshakeable belief. A sea of thousands walking through the narrow path inside the forest to reach Medaram, camping there for days and the way they were enjoying the pilgrimage amazed me,” she tells IWP, adding that she has been attending the biennial fair every time it has been held since then.

Getting back to work didn’t stop her from researching on the origins of the Koyathur tribe and the story behind the legend of Sammakka and Pagididda Raju, Koya tribe chief, and their pantheon. In 1996, Jhansi went on to produce Journey to Medaram, a documentary with the help of a team from Adyar Film Institute in Chennai, Tamil Nadu.

Having travelled across the country to the remotest of tribal areas, she researched on what the actual story was behind the deities. “Just like everyone else, I had initially imagined of this beautiful romantic relationship between Pagididda Raju and Sammakka, and the images of Koyas revolting against the last Kakatiyan king Pratapa Rudra, who was believed to have waged a battle against them, for not ceding to his new tax rule. I was ready to do a feature film on the story, but I found out that the entire story was a myth created in the 1960s, when the temple went into the hands of the Endowments Department,” she says.

After decades of research, she recently released her book titled Aggaggo Sammakka, in which she put forward her arguments in support of her claims.

“If there was a battle between the Kakatiyans and the Koyas, it would have found its way into the many inscriptions found in the erstwhile Warangal district, but there have been none. If the conflict was so significant, the sculptors of Ramappa Temple would have sculpted it, as the temple was built centuries before the battle, but nothing has been found there.

Pratapa Rudra’s rule was believed to be the golden era of the Kakatiyan dynasty as he had expanded his kingdom even till Kerala. As prosperous as his kingdom was, why would he kill his own people just for an insignificant demand for tax,” she wonders.

Observing that the myth was created as part of what she calls the ‘Sanskritisation’ of the tribal festival, she strongly asserts that it’s time the Koyathur tribes know their roots and not fall for cooked-up stories which have no archaeological or literary evidence.

After being an air hostess, a producer, an author, she wanted to add the political feather to her hat. In the 90s, she was appointed as the secretary of the Youth Congress and also was the media and public relations in-charge for the Congress. In the past, she has also contested as an independent MLA from the Bhadrachalam Assembly constituency. She has been vocal for the rights and welfare of the tribals residents and continues to drive the tribal cultural renaissance in the State