Dancing on Fire – Literally

The international Hindu Festival of fire walking is celebrated as Theemithi in Tamil Nadu. Over the past few years, the festival has gained so much prominence that it is also celebrated in Singapore, Mauritius, Malaysia as well as South Africa. The ceremony includes walking on fire by the devotees to ask for blessings from Draupadi, the male female protagonist of Mahabharata and the wives of the five Pandavas. It is believed that Draupadi would bless the devotees who have been able to walk on fire barefoot, thereby granting them their long sought after wishes.

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At least two and a half months before, the preparation of the celebration starts. It includes enacting the episodes of the epic Mahabharata through 18 discernible rites. Celebrated by the Shakti cult in South India, this festival denotes the important of female goddesses in Hindu mythology. More than a festival, it is indeed an act of self purification and spiritual healing, which makes it so ethereal. Locally, the festival is also called as ‘Pomethipu’ which means flower walking. This is because the color of the burning coal looks like fresh orange flowers. There is no gender boundary while practicing this walk, as both men and women can participate in it. Even small children take part in this exotic celebration.

The essence of fire walking has been considered very sacred in Hindu Mythology. Though, it worships Draupadi, who was born out of fire, the festival also worships Goddess Sita who had to indulge in ‘Agni Pariksha’ after she was saved in Lanka, as an act to display the purity of her character. Hence, since times immemorial, fire has been considered the sacred purifying force, which helps in spiritual healing.

The impact of Mahabharata and the victory of Pandavas is considered very sacred. Hence, after the 13 years of war when Pandavas under the leadership of Lord Krishna defeated the 100 Kauravas, Draupadi walked on fire and later emerged as fresh flowers. The fire walk for her was a test of her virginity and her adherence to the religious dharma, which acts like the moral fabric of Hindu society. Thus, started the practice of Theemithi in which fire walking has been considered so auspicious.

Before the main fire walking event, the devotees have to purify themselves by fasting at least three weeks before. It is a very difficult endeavor but cultural devotees in South India have been practicing it for years. It is also considered that after fire walking, all their sins would be forgiven and they would attain ‘moksha’ or enlightenment.

After the end of fire walking, the burning coal is extinguished with water and milk. The flag which had been hoisted at the beginning of the ceremony is graciously lowered down. The end is signified by the final reading the victory of Pandavas in Mahabharata and slowly, the festival ends. Hence, it is one of the most spiritual and difficult festivals of India that has been in existence for centuries.

By- Shubhda Chaudhary

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