The festival of firewalking

Throughout their more than 140 years of residence in South Africa religion has certainly been the most powerful establishing force in the Hindu community. Wherever they settled, shrines and temples were built helping them maintain awareness of their heritage, although most of these settlers were uneducated, they had deep inherited knowledge of their religious practices, because the Tamil community is the largest, their ritual and practice dominates in KZN.

The reason to Firewalk
One of the important traditions they brought to Durban is the Fire walking Festival which is held in honour of goddess Draupadi, one of the many forms of goddess worshipped by Hindus. She is the great mother who is the active power of the world. One of the Indian Names for the fire walking ritual is Pookulithal which means walking on a bed of roses because of the belief that Draupadi cools the coal for her devotees. The decision to walk on the fire is made by taking vows where a person can take a vow for himself or another person where they promise if a sickness or bad luck is cured, they or the person concerned will walk the fire a specified number of times usually 1,3 or 5 times. Hindus generally regard odd numbers as holy.

Features of the Fire walking process
Two features of the fire walking process include a trance state when the devotee believes they are possessed by a deity and is given power and body piercing with hooks. When devotees are in a trance, they can often have needles and hooks pierce through their bodies without feeling any pain and walking through the fire without being burnt. The preparation period before the actual fire walking day takes 10 days before the actual period. Devotees who are to walk across the fire refrain from eating meat, alcohol and sexual activities, a flag is hoisted on the first day bearing the goddesses bearing her vehicle , the lion is hoisted on a pole where it remains until the festive is over.

On the Firewalking Day
On the fire walking day, devotees cleanse themselves at a nearby river and thereafter walk to the temple where they walk on a fire pit. At the end of the walk devotees rinse their feet with milk and keep the burnt ashes as it is believed to be holy. The goddess is said to have defeated her enemies by throwing herself onto a fire pit and thereby attaining power over them. Devotees thus take vows seeking her power and protection by walking the fire annually. In Durban there are numerous temples of worship that follow the festival of fire walking and allow diverse community members to participate.

Written By
Yoveshine Pillay

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