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Sri Sathya Sai Baba Teachings

 

The Goal and the Guide
 By Bombai Srinivasan

Petal 3

The Fire Walking

Those were 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 Palghat (Kerala).

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!

Normally, we 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.

Strangely 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 Amman. 

The daily 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.

The Oracle 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 them.

On the 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.  

I am 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 yellowish.

The oracle 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.

Then more 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.

This ritual 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 out.

On arrival, 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?

Devotees 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.

This 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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