Fire-walking ritual draws about 4,000

A devotee makes his way across burning charcoal during the annual Fire Walking festival at the Sri Mariamman Temple on Oct 8, 2017.
A devotee makes his way across burning charcoal during the annual Fire Walking festival at the Sri Mariamman Temple on Oct 8, 2017.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Close to 4,000 male devotees walked barefoot across a bed of burning charcoal, and then stepped into a pit of milk, in observation of the Theemithi, or fire-walking festival.

The annual event took place at the Sri Mariamman Temple in Chinatown last night and was attended by 1,500 public observers.

Held a week before Deepavali, the ritual is a form of penance or thanksgiving in honour of Hindu goddess Sri Drowpathai Amman.

The ritual started at around 9pm. Prior to the fire walking, devotees formed a procession from Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Serangoon Road to Sri Mariamman Temple - an approximately 5km walk. Some 275 women devotees were to walk around the fire pit after the ritual was to end in the early hours today.

The Sri Mariamman Temple - the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore - has been the venue for Theemithi since 1840.

The event was also live-streamed on the Facebook page of the Hindu Endowments Board, which manages the temple.

Preparations for the festival started on Sept 22. The setting up of the pit started yesterday morning.

Joining the devotees yesterday was Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan.

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.

Prior to the fire walk, all devotees have to observe a strict vegetarian diet for at least three days and bathe to cleanse themselves before getting the "kanganam", which consists of a coin, some turmeric and a sacred yellow thread tied to their wrists.

Yuen Sin and Melody Zaccheus

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 09, 2017, with the headline 'Fire-walking ritual draws about 4,000'. Print Edition | Subscribe