Fire-walking ceremony Thimithi in Singapore
The first layer of wood is laid to burn at noon, until it turns to coal a couple of hours later. A second layer of wood is added and the process repeats. Each subsequent layer takes less time to burn, adding up to a total of four or five layers of coal for the fire pit. (Photo: Sherlyn Goh)
About 4,500 Hindu devotees gathered on Sunday (Nov 1) at the Sri Mariamman Temple along South Bridge Road to take part in Thimithi, the annual fire-walking festival.
The fire-walking ceremony is held in honour of Draupadi Amman, who is considered the reincarnation of the Hindu goddess Mariamman. Married to the five Pandava brothers, Draupadi was forced to prove her purity by walking on fire, and emerged unharmed. The festival of Thimithi is celebrated to commemorate this event.
During the ceremony, the chief priest leads the festival procession from Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple at Serangoon Road and reaches Sri Mariamman Temple after a four-kilometre walk. There, devotees will walk across hot coals to prove their faith.
Theemidhi or Fire Walking Ceremony honours Goddess Draupadi, heroine of the epic poem “Mahabarata” and deified by the Hindus if South India as Draupadi Amman. Legend has it that she had to prove her innocence and fidelity by walking barefoot over hot coals. For weeks before the ceremony, devotees practice strict vegetarianism and fasting rituals in addition to observing austerities.
Every year, Theemidhi is celebrated in the month of October or November. On the actual day, the ceremony starts at 1.00am at the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple where the devotees take ritual baths before setting off on a 4km walk to Sri Mariamman Temple.
The highlight of the ceremony is the walk devotees make across a pit of fire. The preparation of the four meter long pit of hot, burning coal that usually takes about five hours is especially important and is preceded with prayer and ritual.
Once the pit is ready, the chief pandaram of Sri Mariamman Temple would take the first walk across the scorching bed of coals. With intense concentration, barefooted devotees who wish to fulfill a vow make their walk across the pit – completing the challenge miraculously unscathed. Absolute faith, courage and endurance of devotees can be witnessed at this breathtaking ceremony.
The Thimithi (Tamil: தீமிதி Kundam) or firewalking ceremony is a Hindu festival originating in Tamil Nadu, South India that is celebrated during the month of Aipasi (or Aippasi) of the Tamil calendar. This occurs between the Gregorian calendar months of October and November. The fire-walking ceremony is in honour of Draupati Amman, who is considered the incarnation of Mariamman, and is practiced not only in India, but also in Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia, Mauritius, South Africa and other countries with large South Indian populations.
In Singapore, the celebrations begin at Srinivasa Perumal Temple, Kudavasal in Serangoon Road around 10pm and the priest leads the grand procession of people through the streets to Sri Mariamman Temple in South Bridge Road where the actual tīmiti takes place. The priest starts the tīmiti by walking through the pit filled with hot burning wood with a karakattam "sacred water-filled pot" on his head. He is followed by male devotees intent on fulfilling their personal promises and proving their faith. The devotees may include a minority of non-Indians and non-Hindus.
Origins of the festival - The tīmiti festival is celebrated in honour of Draupadi, the main character of the epic Mahabharata, who is the wife of the five Pandava brothers. In a gambling session with their cousin Duryodhana, the Pandava brothers lost their home, country and even their wife.
Not satisfied with his victory, Duryodhana wanted to further disgrace the brothers. He requested his younger brother Dushasana strip Draupadi in front of the court. However, she was saved by Krishna and at that moment, Draupadi took a vow to only comb her hair after smearing Dushasana's blood on it and using his femur as a comb. The great Mahabharata war took place to fulfill her vow.
After the war, to prove her purity she walked through a bed of fire and came out as fresh as a flower. The festival is celebrated to commemorate this event.
Events during the festival period - During the period of the festival, scenes from Mahabharata are enacted by the devotees and drama troupes. A week before the fire walking they perform prayers to Periyachi who is one of the most important deities of Mariamman’s entourage. The grand prayer session is held to request her blessings upon the devotees and that no unpleasant incidents should happen during the festival.
The second event is a symbolic grand marriage ceremony conducted between Arjuna and Draupadi. Following this is probably the most important ritual: a simulation of the sacrifice of Hijra, which was done before the Mahabharata war to ensure success to the Pandavas. The simulated ritual does not involve human sacrifice.
Afterwards, devotees offer their prayers like carrying milk pots, doing Kumbiduthandam (prostrating after every step) and Angapirathatchanam (rolling around the temple grounds). Mariamman is given a milk bath with the milk that the devotees brought as it is a belief that the sins of man will be washed away.
Two days before the Tīmiti festival, a silver chariot procession takes place to commemorate the 18-day battle which culminates in the Pandavas victory. At this juncture, Krishna agreed to be Arjuna's charioteer. Marking this occasion in Singapore, on the Friday and Saturday prior to Tīmiti, a chariot procession takes place around the Telok Blangah and Bukit Merah districts.
The fire pit is prepared the night before the final day and kept red hot throughout the ritual. Devotees begin their ritual as early as 4 am and the event ends before 11am. It is believed that if they are truly devoted to Draupadi they will walk through the fire unscathed.
Some devotees suffer burn injuries on their feet. Injuries to children subjected to such rituals in Tamil Nadu have been reported. Reportedly due to unsteadiness while walking, children fall and often sustain injuries to other parts of their bodies besides their feet.
Theemithi (Thimithi) or "firewalking" is done as part of a religious vow in which the devotee promises to walk on fire in exchange for a wish or blessing granted by the Goddess Draupadi. Theemithi is part of a larger ceremony stretching over a two-and-a-half month period where parts of the Mahabharata is re-enacted, totalling up to 18 distinguishable rites.
History - Firewalking is an international Hindu festival which originated in South India. It is practised not only in India and Singapore but even in South Africa and wherever there are South Indians. The Goddess Draupadi is the heroine of the Mahabharata and is a common village goddess, or amman ("mother" goddess). She presides over firewalking in South Indian rituals just like Mariamman who is the principal goddess of Sri Mariamman Temple, and may be one of the reasons why Sri Mariamman Temple is the location for the firewalking ceremony in Singapore. Sri Mariamman Temple also happens to be the oldest and largest Hindu temple in Singapore and Theemithi has been practised here since 1840. The firewalking is actually a culmination of a four-kilometre walk that begins at Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple at Serangoon Road. The reasons for starting at the Perumal Temple is uncertain although it is suggested that the location is selected solely for convenience.
In 1997, about 2,500 persons turned up for the firewalking ritual with up to 10 percent of them being Chinese. More than 20,000 would turn up for the penance rituals, starting several weeks before the firewalking.
Legends - Theemithi is not just a single ritual performed on a particular day. It is in fact the culmination of several religious rituals which re-enacts important and auspicious events from the Hindu epic -- the Mahabaratha. Theemithi signifies the victory of a war in the Mahabaratha that took place between two families, the Pandavas and Kauravas, with the Pandavas emerging victorious.
Draupadi, wife of Pandavas, and the heroine of the epic, is portrayed as a person who endures many misfortunes but holds on steadfastly to dharma, Hindu principles and morality. Similarly, throughout the period of the reading of the Mahabharatha, the fire walkers and other devotees make sacrifices such as taking on a strict vegetarian diet and abstaining from any conjugal involvement.
Theemithi is celebrated at dawn always on the Monday before Deepavali (the Festival of Lights). According to the epic, Draupadi, on seeing the dead bodies of the members of the Kaurava family, combs her hair for the first time in 13 years. The grand finale of the victory was when Draupadi walks on fire, a process known as Theemithi, to prove her virtuosity and chastity by her adherence to dharma. It is this victory of the war with the Kauravas that is marked by Theemithi. The theemit re-enacts this event as the pandaram (chief priest) walks across the fire with the karakam (a sacred, decorated pot) the goddess inside is thus tested anew. Likewise, her devotees, if they are as pure as Draupadi, will cross the coals unharmed.
The major event at this Hindu festival is the breathtaking fire-walking ceremony in which devotees honour the goddess Draupathi. Draupathi is a tragic heroine in Tamil mythology now honoured as a deity for her purity and steadfastness through misfortune.
Legend has it that she proved her fidelity and innocence to her husband by walking barefoot over burning coals, and Hindu priests and devotees demonstrate their faith, courage and endurance by walking across a 21-foot (7m) pit of glowing coals without showing any signs of pain. In this test of purity devotees believe that they will only be burnt if they are impure. Afterwards they wade through a pit of goat's milk and then stain their feet with yellow turmeric. On the eve of Thimithi a procession honouring Draupathi, led by a magnificent silver chariot, makes its way to the Sri Mariamman Temple (South Bridge Road) from the Sri Srinivasi Temple in Little India.
The fire-walking ceremony takes place at the Sri Mariamman Temple. Only men are allowed to take part in the ritual despite the fact that it honours and commemorates a woman. Devotees believe that the act of fire-walking will purify them of past sins and bless them for the future.
Thimithi (Fire Walking Festival)
Every year, there is a Thimithi Fire Walking festival in Singapore. And this year it was held on the 16th October. The staffs will standby at the sides to prevent any accident from happening. And this is one of the participant who is attempting the fire walking. The staffs notice he was about to fall so they quickly moved forward to prevent him from falling and guide him through the whole firewalk.