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.
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 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.
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.
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.