The Tīmiti (Tamil: தீமிதி)Kundam or firewalking ceremony is a Hindu festival originating in Tamil Nadu, South India that is celebrated during the month of Aipasi (or Aippasi) of the Tamil calendar. This occurs between the Gregorian calendar months of October and November. The fire-walking ceremony is in honour of Draupati Amman, who is considered the incarnation of Mariamman, and is practiced not only in India, but also in Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia, Mauritius, South Africa and other countries with large South Indian populations.
In Singapore, the celebrations begin at Srinivasa Perumal Temple, Kudavasal in Serangoon Road around 10pm and the priest leads the grand procession of people through the streets to Sri Mariamman Temple in South Bridge Road where the actual tīmiti takes place. The priest starts the tīmiti by walking through the pit filled with hot burning wood with a karakattam "sacred water-filled pot" on his head. He is followed by male devotees intent on fulfilling their personal promises and proving their faith. The devotees may include a minority of non-Indians and non-Hindus.
Origins of the festival
The tīmiti festival is celebrated in honour of Draupadi, the main character of the epic Mahabharata, who is the wife of the five Pandava brothers. In a gambling session with their cousin Duryodhana, the Pandava brothers lost their home, country and even their wife.
Not satisfied with his victory, Duryodhana wanted to further disgrace the brothers. He requested his younger brother Dushasana strip Draupadi in front of the court. However, she was saved by Krishna and at that moment, Draupadi took a vow to only comb her hair after smearing Duryodhana's blood on it and using his femur as a comb. The great Mahabharata war took place to fulfill her vow.
After the war, to prove her purity she walked through a bed of fire and came out as fresh as a flower. The festival is celebrated to commemorate this event.
Events during the festival period
During the period of the festival, scenes from Mahabharata are enacted by the devotees and drama troupes. A week before the fire walking they perform prayers to Periyachi who is one of the most important deities of Mariamman’s entourage. The grand prayer session is held to request her blessings upon the devotees and that no unpleasant incidents should happen during the festival.
The second event is a symbolic grand marriage ceremony conducted between Arjuna and Draupadi. Following this is probably the most important ritual: a simulation of the sacrifice of Hijra, which was done before the Mahabharata war to ensure success to the Pandavas. The simulated ritual does not involve human sacrifice.
Afterwards, devotees offer their prayers like carrying milk pots, doing Kumbiduthandam (prostrating after every step) and Angapirathatchanam (rolling around the temple grounds). Mariamman is given a milk bath with the milk that the devotees brought as it is a belief that the sins of man will be washed away.
Two days before the Tīmiti festival, a silver chariot procession takes place to commemorate the 18-day battle which culminates in the Pandavas victory. At this juncture, Krishna agreed to be Arjuna's charioteer. Marking this occasion in Singapore, on the Friday and Saturday prior to Tīmiti, a chariot procession takes place around the Telok Blangah and Bukit Merah districts.
The fire pit is prepared the night before the final day and kept red hot throughout the ritual. Devotees begin their ritual as early as 4 am and the event ends before 11am. It is believed that if they are truly devoted to Draupadi they will walk through the fire unscathed.
Some devotees suffer burn injuries on their feet. Injuries to children subjected to such rituals in Tamil Nadu have been reported. Reportedly due to unsteadiness while walking, children fall and often sustain injuries to other parts of their bodies besides their feet.
- "Hindu festivals," by Hindu Endowments Board (Singapore). http://www.heb.gov.sg/mainhindufestivals.html
- "Theemithi (Fire-walking)," by Suchitthra Vasu. Singapore Infopedia (National Library Board, Singapore), 1998. http://infopedia.nlb.gov.sg/articles/SIP_762_2004-12-23.html
- Months of the Tamil calendar
- Sayampanathan SR, Ngim RC, Foo CL (April 1997). "Fire walking in Singapore: a profile of the burn patient". J R Coll Surg Edinb 42 (2): 131–4. PMID 9114688.
- "Mahabharathathil Uruvaana thiruvizha," by Radha Kasiramu. Tamil Murasu, October 2005, pg 3.
- Ramakrishnan KM, Jayaraman V, Sankar J, Ramesh J (September 2004). "Paediatric burns due to fire walking and its complications. Experience at Chennai (Tamil Nadu, India)". Annals of Burns and Fire Disasters 17 (3).
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