More than 3,000 Hindu devotees take part in biggest fire-walking festival in S'pore since Covid-19

Sri Mariamman Temple's chief priest Venugopal Thirunavukkarasu walking across burning coal with the Karagam, a sacred vessel, over his head, on Oct 16, 2022. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - When Mr Sivakumaran Sathappan participated in a fire-walking ceremony on Sunday, it was his 28th time taking part in the Hindu ritual of walking barefoot on burning embers.

Unlike the last two years, this year's ceremony - known as Theemithi, to give thanks to goddesses Sri Mariamman and Sri Draupadai Amman for wishes or blessings granted - was held without any restrictions, even though participants had to register beforehand.

Mr Sivakumaran, 53, was among more than 3,000 devotees who walked across the fire pit at Sri Mariamman Temple in South Bridge Road.

Apart from the lifting of restrictions, this year also saw the return of the 4km walk from Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Serangoon Road to Sri Mariamman Temple led by Sri Mariamman Temple's chief priest carrying a sacred vessel or a karagam.

Mr Sivakumaran, secretary of the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple and is also director at the Government Technology Agency, joined in the walk before walking across the fire pit.

He told The Straits Times he felt excited and happy that the ceremony has returned to almost how it was like before the Covid-19 pandemic.

"We are able to return to the walk, and it is more lively with a lot more people in the temple chanting and praying," he added.

Mr Sivakumaran first participated in the walk when he was 21 years old, when he prayed for his mother who was recovering from a spine surgery.

He said: "I felt blessed that my mother got better, and then I continued doing the fire walking almost every year as a form of thanksgiving."

Devotee Sivakumaran Sathappan walking across burning coal at Sri Mariamman Temple on Oct 16, 2022. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

On Sunday, the ceremony, attended by Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo, was delayed for about an hour as preparations for the fire pit were affected by rain.

Up to 1,000 people were accommodated at Sri Mariamman Temple at a time.

Before the pandemic, about 5,000 to 6,000 people would participate in the ceremony. In 2020, there was no public participation, while only 950 devotees were allowed to participate in 2021.

About 22,000 pieces of wood were used for the fire pit, which is 18 feet (5.4m) long, to symbolise the 18 days of war between two branches of a family in the Sanskrit epic, Mahabharata.

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