A Fiery Walk of Faith

A Fiery Walk of Faith

Temperatures are escalating within the walls of Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple, the Sri Mariamman Temple at South Bridge Road. As atmospheric chants of Om Sakthi fill the air, male devotees make a barefoot dash over a four-metre-long fire pit of burning coal. This is the climax of the Theemithi ceremony, where Hindu devotees follow the footsteps of their Goddess Draupadi and take a fiery walk of faith over burning ember.

Theemithi is an annual affair at Sri Mariamman Temple, which is Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple established since 1827.

Theemithi is an annual affair at the Sri Mariamman Temple, which is Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple established since 1827.

Three stacks of wood are first set onto the fire pit, which is three- to four-metre-long.

Three stacks of wood are first set onto a four-metre-long fire pit.

The three fires are consolidated into one huge fire and the coals are raked flat hours before the fire-walking ceremony.

Just hours before the fire-walking, the three fires are consolidated into one huge fire and the coals are raked flat.

Thousands have gathered at the temple for the Theemithi ceremony to cheer on their fellow devotees and participants of the fire-walking ceremony. In Tamil, thee means fire and mithi means to stamp.

Devotees begin to fill the temple around the afternoon, in eager anticipation of the fire-walking ceremony.

Hundreds of devotees begin to fill the temple in the afternoon, in anticipation of the fire-walking ceremony.

Many are willing to endure the heat and fumes emitted from the fire pit.

Many are willing to endure the heat and fumes emitted from the fire pit.

A devotee at prayer.

A devotee at prayer.

Devotees begin their procession at the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple at Serangoon Road and take a four-kilometre-long walk to Sri Mariamman Temple at South Bridge Road in Chinatown. Dressed in shades of saffron, the sacred colour for Hindus, these devotees take turns to walk or dash over the pit of burning coal, before a quick soak in a smaller pit of milk.

Having begun their procession at the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple at Serangoon Road, the Sri Mariamman Karagam finally arrives at the Sri Mariamman Temple.

Having begun their procession at the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple at Serangoon Road, the Sri Mariamman Karagam finally arrives at the Sri Mariamman Temple after a four kilometre walk.

K. Swaminathan, the head priest of the Sri Mariamman Temple leads the fire-walking ceremony.

K. Swaminathan, the head priest of the Sri Mariamman Temple, leads the fire-walking ceremony.

Milk is believed to soothe their feet from the fire and also comes from their sacred animal, the cow. In fact, many seated cow sculptures line up on the temple walls of the Sri Mariamman Temple. This temple was established from as early as 1827. With an impressive gopuram, it became an icon in the area – the two streets flanking the temple are named in association: Pagoda Street and Temple Street.

Theemithi is not an autonomous ritual. It is part of a sequence of religious rituals spanning two and a half months.

Theemithi is not an autonomous ritual. It is part of a sequence of religious rituals spanning two and a half months.

Theemithi is done in honour of the Goddess Draupadi, the central female figure of the great epic, Mahabaratha.

Theemithi is done in honour of Goddess Draupadi, the central female figure of the great epic, Mahabaratha.

An annual occurrence and a key festival at the Sri Mariamman Temple, Theemithi is usually celebrated on the dawn of the Monday before Deepavali. The temple is welcoming towards all respectful members of the public who wish to join in the festivity or observe the fiery walk of faith.

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