The Goal and the Guide
By Bombai Srinivasan
The Fire Walking
the days when as a young boy of 8 year old, I was studying in the
4th grade of Primary school, in a small town in
We lived in
an Agraharam, where a group of traditional
Brahmins live. These Agraharams are cluster of tiled houses, built
in rows on both sides of the road. Whether they are rich or poor,
the Brahmins will find a place to live in that
Agraharam. There are about 96 such Agraharams in that
small town of Palghat. There are certain peculiarities in
Agraharams. They will have only one side of the wall, and the
other wall belonged to the next-door neighbor. The width of the
house will be narrow, but the length is quite long. Every house
has a “Thinnai” which is a verandah. Any
passerby or tourist can climb up the verandah of any house, and
stay for the night or take rest in daytime. As we climb up a few
steps along the verandah, there will be a small room, called
_Nezhi”, and then an inbuilt courtyard. By the side of the
courtyard, there will be hall, a pooja room, a storeroom, and
kitchen etc. Some houses have upstairs too, where there will be
one or two bedrooms. Quite spacious really!
find a garden in front of the house in the cities. But in these
Agraharams, there are vegetable gardens in the back yard of every
house; even a very small house will have about 1000 sq.ft. of
vegetation land. Flowers for daily pooja, and the vegetable to
meet the requirements of the family will be grown up in this land.
Here too, one side of the fence belonged to one family, and the
other fence to the neighbor. In between the land and the kitchen
every house will have well, to meet their water requirement. Water
is drawn using a pot tied to a thick rope, through a pulley.
There are no
Agraharams without a temple. It is considered that it is a sin to
live in village where there is no temple. Each Agraharam will have
different types of deities. In one village it will be a Shiva
temple; another a Vishnu temple; yet in another it could be
Subramanya temple and so on. In most of the Shiva temples, there
will be a separate sanctum for Goddess Durga. However, there will
not any temple exclusively for Durga, in any part of South India.
enough there are many temples outside the Agraharam areas, where
you can find temples exclusively for “Mariamman”.
This deity is known in several names in different temples. In
Tamil Nadu, you have “Karumari Amman” in Thiruverkadu, and another
Amman in Mangadu, both near Madras. Chamayapuram, (Near Trichy),
and Melmaruvathur (Near Chengalpet) are also some of the famous
Mariamman temples in Tamil Nadu. In Kerala in the outskirts of the
villages, we can find many small Mariamman temples. These deities
known as “Amman” are sort of “Kaval
Daivam” (The protective Deity) of those villages. It
is still believed this deity of Amman protects the village from
calamities, diseases and so on. To save themselves from the
dreaded Smallpbox, the villages worship this Amman fervently. Even
the smallpox is itself believed to be a manifestation of this
worships are conducted by the natives. The method of worships is
based on devotion, and singing in praise of the Amman. The
traditional native drums such as Thappattai, Udukku
etc. are used to accompany the singing. In many such temples there
are ORACLES. When the singing starts, this Oracle
starts dancing to the tune and the beat. It is believed that Amman
is manifesting in the body of that oracle. I have been personally
witnessing awesome supernatural powers in these oracles while they
are supposed to be in trace.
In my early
age, late in the evening, while we were playing in front of our
homes, I saw a big crowd moving along the road of the Agraharam.
The group of persons who were beating the Thappattai, and Udukku
preceded them, and a couple of them were singing. They were
walking backwards, facing the Oracle who was just behind them. The
sight, which I witnessed, was perplexing. The oracle was wearing a
yellow colored Dhothi, waist down. He had long hairs, but the
front portion was bald, and displayed some scars over there.
was in a condition of trance, or seemed to be possessed, and was
dancing to the beating of the drums. He was holding a big open
type earthen pot, and fire was ranging high from the pot. It was
terribly hot, and the people nearby were sweating profusely. It
seems that the oracle did not feel the heat, though the pot was
resting squarely on his both the palms. Of course, there were a
bunch of Neem leaves as insulation, but they have been badly burnt
out due to the excessive heat. The procession had already covered
a good length of 2 kilometers, and by the time, it reaches back
the temple, they would have covered 5 kilometers are so. It was
quite astonishing to see such a feat of endurance, braving the
heat, and the stamina, which he had to withstand such long
procession, dancing all the way with the Hotpot on his hands.
Many of the
people from Agraharam followed the procession to the end. I was
very much enthused by this rare experience, and I too followed
arrival in the temple, which was in the outskirts of the village,
the oracle circled the temple three times and emptied the fire
from the pot into a long hearth, which contained simmering fire.
Some devotees were fanning the fire with thick matted pads, using
them as a hand used fan, and the fire was glowing red-hot. The
hearth, the pit containing the fire, should be around 20 feet,
long and 6 feet wide. I was told that a good 2 feet depth had
been filled with fire. They would have burnt two truckloads of
firewood to create this fire.
witnessing such a site first time in my life, and my young mind
was very much throbbing with awe and wonder. I did not know what
is going to happen from then on. My grand mother was holding my
hand tightly; least she may loose me in the country crowd. A
short distance from the Pit of fire, another fire was noted. A
small heap of firewood was burning. On top of it, using about
three or four big stones, a large vessel had been kept. The
diameter of the vessel was about 4 feet, but the depth could only
be of about 2 feet. Water was boiling inside. The oracle poured
some quantity of turmeric powder into it, and the water changed
was going round and round the vessel dancing all the while. He had
a bunch of Neem leaves in his hands. Often he would be dipping the
bunch of Neem leaves into boiling water, and instantly splashed
the water over his head and body. For any ordinary human beings,
the skin should have got burnt, terribly. But the Oracle did not
seem to feel the heat.
curious things started happening. The Oracle would catch hold of
some other devotees and invite them to join him in splashing the
hot water. Within no time, I found myself dragged by the Oracle,
and I too joined the frenzy of splashing hot water over my head
and body. I was also given a bunch of Neem leaves. Strangely I did
not feel the terrible heat, but the water was just lukewarm, just
as we take bath in the bath room.
continued for half an hour or so. The Oracle started moving away,
and all those who had joined him in splashing Hot water, were
directed to follow him. The destination was a river about a
kilometer away. My grandmother was very excited to know that I had
been blessed by the selection as one among a few, by the Oracle.
We took bath in the river and returned to temple, wearing wet
clothes. We wre not supposed to dry our body after taking the dip
in the river. But by the time we reached the temple we were dried
we were directed to stand in a queue, in front of the fire pit.
The Oracle stood for a moment near the approach of the Fire pit,
and started walking over the Fire. He covered the good 20 feet
length, with about 10 to 15 strides. I was trembling with fear, to
think what is going to happen. One by one, the selected devotees
were directed to follow suit. It was my turn now. But I stood
hesitating. The Oracle gently patted me and pushed me into the
pit. I took my first step on the fire. I did not feel much heat
though under my legs, it was quite warm. In a hurry I took further
steps and crossed the long pit in quick time. I was wonderstruck
to note there were no burns under my legs, and I was quite safe.
I could not understand the rational behind the entire episode. How
is it possible that you do not get burnt, even while walking such
a length over the simmering fire?
chanting the names of Goddess in loud voices, and the drums were
beating up, and the entire crow was hysterical. But I must admit
that there is something mythical and supernatural in the entire
event that took place within an hour or so.
experience of fire walking made me think of the Power of God and
Goddess, and the devotion became deep rooted, in the years to
come. Perhaps, such experiences were gradually preparing me in my
path of devotional pilgrimage. The urge to spiritualize my life
had been planted in my young mind on that memorable day!
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