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Thimithi in Singapore – A Firewalking Ceremony

** 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

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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?

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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.

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Guards of the temple. I think she is saying, “Only one photo allowed 😉

Legend

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.

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As fire pit being prepared, flames go quite high

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A Patron pouring water over other to keep his body cool

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Patrons churning charcoal so that it is evenly burnt

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Audience and family member of devotee wait anxiously for event to start

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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.

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Chief Priest starts the walking ceremony after a ritual dance. Notice the pit filled with Cow’s milk at the end of the pit.

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Chief Priest is followed by other devotees

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Some devotees made it look like a cake walk

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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 **

8 thoughts on “Thimithi in Singapore – A Firewalking Ceremony

  1. Kat

    I have heard of this firewalking ceremony and I believe it’s held in Penang as well. Looks like it’s more organised in Singapore where they require special pass to enter to watch the ceremony. Don’t think they have it in Penang – it’s “free for all” therefore I bet there would be a rush for the best spot 😉

    I like your photos and the video!

    1. Ankur Post author

      Event in Singapore was well organized, with proper seating arrangements. The temple here is however small and could not have handled all the crowd.
      General public were not allowed to view the ceremony unless they had a pass (donations required to get it). General public was allowed to enter later though.
      Catch up this festival next year in Penang! worth a watch.
      I am glad you liked my pictures and video 🙂

  2. Andapo

    First!! … I appreciate this look at this as a non-critical, non-biased, non-interfering opinioed person(: … loads of thoughts are rushing fighting to shoot… first that Daupathi is the lady who papa insulted Duryodin ok, laughing when he fell down… I think she should have apologised… second if she has five hubby’s what chastisity we are talking about? … I see no difference if she had been around with a sixth man in her life… ok …over… incidentally I have a long dedicated to Mariamman… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HfOSajWi6Bc … I like the song, looks like I got to pay attension to the lyrics now not just the tune, just listened to it here and there, the movies they show in tamil channels are quite low class, even serials and all and we tamilians in cities and villages spend our nights watching them… yuck…anyway call it addiction, as long as it is not cigaretts or drinks… ok yeah Ankur I guess in villages it was common to kill animals and offer their blood to Kali… they kill goats on mass basis and people like attending such festivals… all I can say is well we are educated and are at a different league not in their league so we can’t comment on their beliefs… anyway… My grand ma did walk on fire so did many people unharmed so yeah its feasible… well will I walk on it… hmmm… yeah not to prove chastity but just for fun… no one believes in these virtues a tall, if they do then we know whats on TV, hindi movies etc etc… ha … ofcourse its a best virtue to be a good person not cheating on your partner at any level and being fateful… but we know the world its hard not be cheated, fooled and all that… anyway… this was interesting anyway… but parents and grandparents are hard on the chastity virtue… I guess it gets ingrained… and we follow the middle path, living in utter confusion and not talking about this issue unless there is a debate on channels or something… and I wonder other than the Bhagawat Geetha…there is no wisdom in Mahabaratha… but still its cooler than the serials I guess, some of the serials are good though… now do you think these things are child friendly and family friendly ? I think not… anyway I like the mahabaratham title song too… see how many Indiandised things in the system, even though I don’t watch!!!

    1. Ankur Post author

      I have stopped judging people and society long back. Right and wrong are just a perspective. Nothing is black or white any longer, all i see is grey. So if people walk on fire or drape in fire, I just capture it without being judgmental 🙂
      Good to know your side of story ,as a Tamilian. I do not really have any Tamil friends so all info posted above is based on observations.
      I understand Sita was kidnapped, but Draupadi was never taken away so why the test? Anyways these are just cultural traditions and no point in questioning them. No one can answer them. Your comments about Draupadi’s chastity amused me. Our history is full of taboos. Imagine anyone having five husbands these days 😉

      1. Andapo

        Well… a traveller learns not to interfere in sensitive matters… I actually did not know about Draupati being Kali ma ji so it was good info on Mariamma… I am not even a tamilian, I am a Tamilian Bharmin so got to have knowledge and tradition in some respects, but we never went to temples where they practice this… you know sometimes even if it does not make sense we get into the religious fervour to make sense of life etc etc… we learn to appreacite this if we don’t hold any bias… there is story on temples like Murudeshwar… quite interesting with the Atthama linga concept… I heard this song https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wEvUYztSZP4 … its very nice even if its a devotional, love remix song by Raghu Dixshit… anyway… those days kings had lots of wives, maybe ladies too had lot of husbands because shortage of women or something… now a days no one can stand more than one wife or husband in the modern world anyway, we have only one life.

  3. Andapo

    Our Krishnaji had multiple admirers… papa only Radha had to be with Krishna no other admirer…atleast we can say they had a relationship of love and all that… I won’t say that with Droupathi and her husbands…they never loved her so much, just another lady in their life, they shared… ha I don’t understand Mahabaratha… I guess it was how we were those days… but ofcourse we listen to Bhaja Govindum and BHagawat Geetha for faith and wisdom… anyway… I guess it sounds very nice that’s why it is fun to listen to Bhaja Govindum and Bhagawat Geetha…

    1. Ankur Post author

      I have never listened to Bhagawad Geetha. I am too lazy.
      I know all about Maharbharat though due to TV shows only. I watched it while as a kid. My whole family used to sit together and watch Shri Krishna and Mahabharatha.

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