The Theemithi festival starts on the new moon day of the month of Aadi as indicated in the Tamil calendar. The first ritual is a flag-raising ceremony in goddess Draupadi’s sanctum. The flag bears the image of Lord Hanuman, as he is believed to protect the temple grounds until the end of the festival. From this day, the Mahabharata is read aloud every night in the temple by priests until the festival comes to a close.
A series of rituals and ceremonies are conducted for various Hindu gods over the following weeks, including some to goddess Mariamman, who is the principal deity of this temple. Special ceremonies are also held on the day of the fire-walking, an important one of which involves a male spirit medium re-enacting how Draupadi’s vow was fulfilled.
The fire pit is then dug by volunteers and wood is burnt. Meanwhile, the pandaram (priest) and volunteers make their way to the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Serangoon Road, and then walk back to Sri Mariamman Temple. They may carry sacred items during this 4 km-long walk, such as the karagam - a silver pot filled with water that is decorated with mango leaves and flowers and regarded as a manifestation of the goddess Draupadi.
Once they reach the Sri Mariamman Temple, the fire-walking ceremony begins. The pandaram (priest) is the first one to go across the pit, followed by all the volunteers, and then the devotees.
All male devotees who plan to fire-walk have to first buy a ticket and kapu (a yellow string coloured with turmeric to signify protection) from the temple. They must also wear a dhoti (a rectangular piece of unstitched cloth, wrapped around the waist like a sarong), but have the option to be bare-chested or wear a T-shirt. They may also wear a garland around their necks.
Those who attempt the fire-walk can then cool their feet in a pit filled with milk.