** 2016 Update **
This year event is happening on 23 October. Let’s shoot it together. Drop me message if you would like to join me
Continuous chant of “Om Sakti” is still ringing in my head. An environment so electrifying, you may have never seen or experienced. It was a state of trance. Drums were blaring hard but for an audience flying high in religious spirit, it was indeed musical. Flames, as high as 4 feet were making it unbearable to stand even in the vicinity of the temple complex. A huge “bowl of fire” was being prepared for devotees to walk over. One, who has a pure soul will pass unscathed, others will perish in burns.
Would you walk into this pit of hot red burning charcoal in name of religion?
Thimithi (or Theemithi)
A firewalking ceremony is celebrated by Tamil Hindus of Southern India. This event is grandly celebrated in India, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia and Mauritius in the month of October/November in honor of wishes granted by Draupati Amman, who is considered the incarnation of Mariamman.
According to Indian mythology, Draupadi was a main character of Mahabharata. She was wife to five brothers knows as Pandavas. When Pandavas lost Draupadi to Kauravas in gambling, Kauravas dragged her in the courthouse and played with her dignity. Draupadi vowed to not comb her hair until she washed them with the blood of one of Kauravas. 13 years later, Pandavas killed all Kauravas in a fierce battle and Draupadi gets a chance to complete her vows. She is also asked to walk through fire to prove her chastity and purity. Draupadi walks over the fire and comes out unharmed.The festival is celebrated to commemorate this event.
Event in Singapore
Sri Mariamman Temple (China Town) is the site of Thimithi celebration in Singapore. Devotee walks 4 km from Perumal Temple in Little India to Sri Mariamman temple every year to participate in this celebration.
A 2.7m long pit is filled with burning red hot charcoal. Initially, when the fire is lit up, flames as high 4 meter makes it difficult to manage. The priest who volunteers to manage the pits is cooled by water poured over them by other priests. Thereafter, the fire is sustained, sometimes reaching such high temperatures that the temple walls need to be cooled with water. All devotee of Goddess Draupadi has to cross this pit bare footed. At the end of the pit, a pool of cow’s milk is created to cool down feet. Cow’s milk is considered sacred in Hindu mythology. Many priests stand along the pit to make sure no devotees fall into the pit while crossing.
As fire pit being prepared, flames go quite high
A Patron pouring water over other to keep his body cool
Patrons churning charcoal so that it is evenly burnt
Audience and family member of devotee wait anxiously for event to start
And finally, some Sandalwood is also added to burning charcoal.
This year, fire walking was scheduled to start at 7PM on 1 November. Sri Mariamman temple can be reached from China Town MRT. It is an only 2-3 minutes walk from MRT. I reached temple at 5:30 PM to catch few evening shots. A pass was required to enter the main seating area where the procession was taking place. Nonpass holders were allowed entry after few patrons left the area. Actual Firewalk started at around 8:30PM.
The event starts as the pandaram (chief priest) walks across the fire with the karakam (a sacred, decorated pot) the goddess inside is thus tested anew. It is estimated that a couple of thousand devotees follow him to walk over burning charcoals.
Chief Priest is followed by other devotees
Some devotees made it look like a cake walk
A devotee running across the pit. It is advised not to run over the pit to minimize the burns. The more you pressurize the feet (to run), more charcoal it digs into.
After this ceremony, there is a chariot procession in the evening. Although firewalking is the apex of the whole ceremony, the Theemithi cycle only comes to a close two days later. The final chapter of the Mahabaratha is read and the victory of the war is depicted by the lowering of the battle flag and the crowning of Yudishtra, the eldest Pandava brother.
Watch this small video of the event
Science says, time duration of contact made by human feet and embers is not sufficient enough to sustain burns. Also embers are poor conductors of heat so less heat is transferred to human feet. Devotees are high on enthusiasm so they tend to cross the pit without much trouble. All these factors explain the scientific side of firewalking.
Goddess Mariamman is considered by many to be the South Indian Incarnation of Goddess Kali. If Goddess is the mother of all devotees, how can she be pleased by hurting her sons? Or is it just that people blindly follow religious gurus in search of enlightenment and it is these gurus of religions that inflict people with pain staking processes? Whatever be it, if one can find peace in inflicting burns so be it. At the end what matters is a peaceful and satisfied mind! isn’t it?
** If this post invoked any emotion, please share with me **