In some parts of south India devotees
take a vow to walk over burning embers in thanksgiving to the gods.
Temple authorities arrange for a ritualistic ceremony where thousand
of people congregate to watch.
relation between man and fire is very ancient and holds a unique
place in the life of man. Not only Indians but also the people of
Greece and Rome worshipped fire which is still a mystery to man.
This custom also exists among the Sri Lankans and Burmese and in the
countries of Fiji, Japan, Hawaii, South Africa, Mauritius and
Trinidad. There is a similarity between the dances of the
American-Indians who while dancing stamp on glowing embers and the
fire walkers of India-particularly in the south.
south-India, fire-walking is held particularly in the temples in
villages. Devotees take a vow to walk over fire in thanksgiving for
the solution of their problems, cure from a disease or the birth of a
ritual is deeply associated with the belief in the supernatural.
People believe that they receive help from supernatural elements
while walking over the burning embers. Even psychology plays an
Tamil Nadu, this ceremony of fire-walking usually takes place during
the months of March and April, when it is very hot and the time
considered apt to please the Goddess Sakthi who is also known as
Mariamman and Koniamman, the protecting deity, whose temple can be
found in each and every town and village. It believed that if this
ceremony is conducted, the Goddess secures the cattle and crops and
also protects people from all kinds of dangers and ill-health.
ceremony generates extraordinary religious enthusiasm and thousands
of devotees surge towards the shrine from the surrounding areas. If
the person who has taken the vow is poor, he will have to wait until
the temple arranges for the ceremony.
days before the actual ritual takes place, special worship is offered
to the goddess, thrice daily. Hundreds of devotees gather in the
temple. In the olden days, every night portions of the Mahabharata
were enacted or recited in the typical village fashion. Just two
days before the ceremony, the head priest ties a piece of saffron
dyed thread or cloth on the hand of the devotees. The thread is tied
on the right hand of men and the left had of women. The nights are
spent only in the temple yards. The last two days are spent in the
the day of the actual ceremony, the devotees, observe a fast. They
have their bath in the temple tank or well and offer prayers in the
temple along with the others who have taken a similar vow.
middy, a pit about fifteen feet long and five feet wide and a foot
deep is dug in front of the shrine. It is washed with a solution of
cow-dung-a process of purification. Cartloads of wood and charcoal
are spread in the pit.
head priest, after bathing, sets fire to the fuel in the pit. The
firewood and charcoal are left to burn, till they become hot-embers.
In come places, the fire embers are left free and loose. While they
walk on this pit, one can see the feet of the walkers sink in about
two or three inches into the embers. But in other places, the fire
embers are kept well tightened, hardened and leveled by striking at
them with bamboo poles. The ashes are then winnowed with the help of
a bunch of fresh neem leaves.
an hour before the actual ritual, the devotees assemble in front of
the pit. The head priest performs the puja. But before he allows
anyone to enter the pit, he performs three tests.
he balance a sword on the rim of an earthen pot. Then he puts a few
pieces of burning charcoal in a cloth dipped in saffron water,
without affecting the cloth. Next he examines the flowers and lime
that had been put away a few days before while performing the puja.
They should still be fresh. In some place, another test is
conducted. The priest keeps some fresh hot cinders on the lap of the
idol and it is regarded as a bad omen if the cloth on which they are
kept burns. In some other places, the test of the falling of a
flower to the right is considered a good omen.
this, the priest clad in yellow clothes and decked with garlands,
walks over the hot-embers first-calmly, deliberately and very slowly.
One can see his feet sinking into the embers. The other devotees
follow him and walk equally deliberately the whole length of the pit,
amidst the anxious faces of their kith and kin who have assembled
around the pit. There is a deafening sound of trumpets, drums and
cymbals. Neither the priest nor the devotees lift their feet very
high. They walk deliberately and calmly. The young children watch
the ceremony in total awe.
relatives of the vow-takers wait on the other side of the pit to
receive them. They cover the devotees with new clothes, give them
something to drink, and take them home.
is a belief that the persons walking over the fire-embers are
possessed by the Goddess, for they lie unconscious for some time
after reaching the other end and they experience no pain while
walking over the embers. It is a known fact that they no not apply
anything over their feet or body.
of those assemble at the place consider the ashes of the fire-embers
sacred and take them home as charm to drive away devils and demons.
India, this religious belief a seen not only in Tamil Nadu but also
in the coasts of Malabar and Visakhapatnam and also in the district
of Anantapur, Godawari, Nellore and Krishna of Andhra Pradesh.
walk over fire successfully, one should have no fear, and no muscular
tension but should have deep concentration and belief in
from walking over fire-embers, another system that is in existence is
the carrying of fire-pots, which is considered equal to the
fire-walk. The rituals are almost the same as during the fire-walk.
The vow-takers usually carry the fire-pots and a bunch of
neem-leaves in their hands and go around the temple amidst the
clanging of drums and cymbals. The commencement rituals are the same
for carrying the fire-pot and the fire-walk. The temples in which
this ceremony takes place prepare them-selves well in advance to
accommodate the overflowing crowd. Fairs are arranged for the crowd.
Shops arise by the side of the temples to sell flowers, fruits, fancy
items like bangles, ribbons and also a variety of pots of different
shapes and sizes.
the world has changed and has advanced in every walk of life, it is
only religious belief and faith that give real satisfaction to the
human soul. The popular belief is that sincere worship fulfills the
wishes of the devotees and mere faith brings hundreds of others to
the temple every year.