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Fire Walking Ritual in Hinduism

Fire walking is an important ritual practiced by certain sections of Hindu society. The ritual involves walking over a bed of coals. The ritual is known as thimithi and is mainly practiced by Hindus in South India, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and South Africa. The ritual is primarily dedicated to ‘Amman’ – an important female deity associated with Shakti cult in South Indian and Tamil Culture.

The fire walking ritual is an act of self-purification. For some devotees it is part of a vow in which the devotee promises to walk on fire in exchange for a wish or blessing granted by Amman. Devotees believe that if they are blessed by Amman then they will come out unscathed. Fire walking is also part of Theyyam dance ritual in Northern Kerala.

Interestingly, in some areas Thimethippu or Thimeethi (fire walking) is referred as Poo Methippu or Pomethipu (flower walking). The name due to the orange color of coal, which looks like flowers. The ritual is mainly performed by men. Some men carry their children on their shoulders as part of the ritual.

The fire walking ritual is mainly dedicated to Draupadi Amman of Mahabharata and numerous other village deities found in South India, which are directly or indirectly related to Shakti cult. Legend has it that Draupadi at the end of the Mahabharata war after seeing the total destruction of Kauravas, decides to walk on fire to prove her adherence to dharma.

It must be noted here that this myth associated with Draupadi is not much popular in Hinduism. But fire walking and purification through Agni (fire) or test of Agni are mentioned in several Hindu scriptures and the most popular is the ‘agni pariksha’ undertaken by Sita in Ramayana after Lord Ram rescued her from Lanka.

Fire walking is also part of Theyyam ritual in Northern Kerala. In the Theyyam dance, the dancer wears burning wicks around his waist and in some rituals the dancer walks in fire by wearing the wicks around his waist. In the Uccitta ritual associated with Theyyam, the dancer jumps into the fire and sits in fire, symbolizing Sati who self immolated during Daksha Yaga.

The fire walking rituals held at the Sri Mariamman Hindu Temple in Singapore before Diwali and at the Bannari Amman temple in Tamil Nadu attract lot of media attention. Many people have also raised their voice against the fire ritual stating it is dangerous and should be permitted in a modern society. But the ritual is still practiced in small villages, towns and in cities.