Thimithi, which can be translated to “fire walking”, is a ceremony that is held in honour of Draupadi, an important female character in the Hindu epic Mahabharata, who proven her purity by walking barefoot across fire and emerging unharmed. During the ceremony, devotees walk across a fire pit with hot coals to prove their faith and as an act of self-purification.
The fire-walking ceremony is part of a larger ceremony that stretches over two-and-a-half months and involves several rituals linked to the re-enactment of parts of the Mahabharata. The cycle begins on the first Monday of Tamil month of Aadi, which is around July and August, and ends two days after the fire-walking ceremony with the reading of the final chapter of the Mahabharata.
The fire walking ceremony usually takes place in the month of Aipasi in the Tamil calendar, between October and November. It is practised in various countries with large South Indian communities, including Malaysia, Mauritius, Sri Lanka and Singapore.
In Singapore, the ceremony starts from Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple at Serangoon Road. A priest will lead a procession of fire-walkers to Sri Mariamman Temple at South Bridge Road where the actual fire-walking takes place. It is believed that Sri Mariamman Temple may have been set as the location of the fire-walking due to the parallels between Mariamman (the principal goddess at Sri Mariamman Temple) and Draupadi, who is commonly venerated as a goddess for South Indian rituals.
At Sri Mariamman Temple, a fire pit with sandalwood pieces is prepared beforehand. The chief priest will walk across the fire pit first while carrying a karakam (a sacred water vessel) on his head. Devotees will then follow and chant prayers as they do so. At the end of the fire pit is a pool of cow’s milk, which fire-walking devotees will wade into to cool their feet. When all devotees have completed their walk, the fire in the pit will be extinguished with the same milk.