30 June 2006

Fire Walking

Fire walking is still a regular event in Tiruvannamalai and other South Indian towns. Usually wood or charcoal is burnt and the smouldering embers laid out onto the ground. The ceremony is usually held under the auspices of a Temple, and in the case of Arunachaleswarar temple held once a year.

Those who participate are ordinary householders and are largely non-Brahmins. In some cases the devotees are give a mantra to recite and may fast for some days before the ritual. In all temples where the fire-walking ceremony is practised it is a Goddess that is worshipped. In the case of the Arunachaleswarar Temple, it is the Goddess Unnamaulai that is duly placated. The actually ceremony occurs on the paved courtyard in front of the Temple of Unnamulai, inside the compound of the Big Temple, on the full moon day of the month of Adi (mid-July to mid-August). At that time a fire of burning embers is spread out after midnight for people to walk upon.

There is a Tamil story that in a place in Singavaram, there is a temple to Sri Ranganadha. Here a king named Kandhan, after suffering a defeat, performed a fire walking ceremony in worship of Draupadi (from the Mahabharata). Draupadi, pleased with the worship, appeared before the king and promised that whoever should worship her as he had done would remain unscathed and also obtain whatever they prayed for. From that day onwards the fire-walking festival is observed with great enthusiasm in Tamil Nadu.

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