Indian-origin devotees walk barefoot on burning charcoal to mark Theemithi in Singapore

Faith was writ large on the faces of about 4,000 Indian-origin devotees who participated in the annual Theemithi festival in Singapore, where they walked barefoot across a bed of burning charcoal. The event was organised at the Sri Mariamman Temple in Chinatown which has been witness to the ritual since 1940.

Khaw Boon Wan, Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Minister of Singapore, also joined the devotees and boosted their morale.

Chief priest (Pandaram) K Swaminathan of Sri Mariamman Temple, walking on the the fire pit during Theemithi ceremony in Singapore.
Chief priest (Pandaram) K Swaminathan of Sri Mariamman Temple, walking on the the fire pit during Theemithi ceremony in Singapore. Photo courtesy: Facebook/ Hindu Endowments Board

The ritual of walking on fire is a form of penance or thanksgiving in honour of Hindu goddess Sri Drowpathai Amman. It is organised one week before the festival of lights Deepawali.

Before the ritual, devotees took out a procession from Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Serangoon Road to Sri Mariamman Temple on South Bridge Road, which is a stretch of approximately 5 km.

The fire pit measures approximately 3 metres in length and is dug within the compound of Sri Mariamman Temple. At the end of the pit holding burning coals, a smaller pit is also dug for milk to be poured into. The fire pit is lit by the pandaram (chief priest) with sandalwood pieces. After initial prayers, a yellow string with some turmeric and a spray of margosa, or neem leaf, is attached to the wrists of all those taking part in the firewalking ceremony.

The religious ceremony starts as the chief priest crossing the fire pit first with a karagam (sacred pot) balanced on his head. The devotees follow across the three-metre-long pit, and then cool their feet in a pool of cow's milk at the end of the walk.

In addition to this, some 275 female devotees also walk around the fire pit after the ritual ended today’s morning.

Mythologically, Theemithi ceremony marks the grand finale of the victory when Draupadi walked on fire to prove her virtuousness and chastity by her adherence to dharma (the path of righteous living according to the codes of conduct stipulated in the Hindu scriptures).

Theemithi ceremony, marking the Pandavas’ victory in the war against the Kauravas, is a reenactment of the event. In present times, the walking of the pandaram (chief priest) across the fire with the karagam (a sacred, decorated pot),  is a symbolic depiction of  Draupadi being tested anew following her tribulations. Likewise, it is believed that if her devotees, are as virtuous as her, they will cross the coals unharmed.

The event was also live-streamed on the Facebook page of the Hindu Endowments Board, which manages the temple. Moreover, there were also about 30 Chinese devotees who took part in the festival - donating and participating in prayers, making offerings and taking on fire-walking as an act of faith.

The devotees had to adhere to strict vegetarian diet for at least three days and bathe to cleanse themselves before participating in the sacred ritual.


Ashraf Jamal
Ashraf Jamal – Senior Writer

Ashraf Jamal brings a rare depth to writing equipped with a degree in journalism, a postgraduate degree in political science, and a degree in law from the Allahabad University. His experience includes editing and publishing the Northern India Patrika and writing for Times of India for almost a decade covering just about any topic under the sun including NRIs and Indian diaspora.


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