Theemithi - Fire Walking Ceremony
Theemithi is a fire walking ceremony. It is a Hindu festival from Tamil Nadu, South India that is celebrated on a Sunday, about a week before Diwali in the month of Aipasi of the Tamil (Hindu) calendar. This month usually coincides with the months of October and November in the Gregorian calendar.
Theemithi is part of a larger ceremony stretching over a two-and-a-half month period, starting from the month of Adi in the Tamil calendar. During this period, parts of the Mahabharata are re-enacted.
Theemithi is held in honour of Goddess Draupadi Amman, the reincarnation of Goddess Mariamman. Though originated from India, Theemithi is observed and practised in Sri Lanka, Singapore and Malaysia as well as countries with large South Indian population.
Goddess Draupadi is the heroine of the Mahabharata, which is one of the major Sanskrit epics of South India. Goddess Draupadi presides over firewalking in South Indian rituals. Theemithi is not a single rite performed on a particular day but is the culmination of several religious rituals that illustrate the important and auspicious events from Mahabharata. Theemithi symbolises the victory of a war between two royal families in the Mahabharata. The Pandavas defeated the Kauravas. Draupadi is the wife of the five Pandava brothers.
Weeks before the ceremony, devotees will prepare themselves by practising strict vegetarian diet and fasting rituals as well as observing austerities.
The highlight of the ceremony is the walk made by devotees across a pit of fire. The pit, normally about four metres long is filled with hot burning coal that takes about four hours to prepare. The walking ceremony is preceded with prayer and rituals.
The chief priest of the temple would be the first to walk across the hot burning coal with a ‘karakam’ or a sacred, decorated pot balanced on his head. The devotees who wish to fulfil their vow followed the chief priest. They would miraculously complete the challenge unscathed. At the end of the fire walk, they cool their feet in a pool of cow’s milk. Cow’s milk is considered to be very sacred to the Hindus. This shows the absolute faith and courage of the devotees.
The Theemithi ceremony is normally held at the Sri Mariamman temples.