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Baptism by fire : Temple priest in India ‘bathes’ in burning coal embers

Baptism by fire : Temple priest in India ‘bathes’ in burning coal embers

Story by Sagaya FernandoMumbai: March 13, 2018

Taking the proverbial saying ‘trial by fire’ to a new level, a temple priest in the village of Thelanur village in Chamarajanagar district of the South Indian state of Karnataka, literally ‘bathed’ in burning hot coals as an invocation for the welfare of the villagers.

This ritual took place during the annual festivities of Urkatheshwari Temple on March 10. The temple, believed to be over three centuries old and built by a local king, is located near Ummathur, a small town which was once the capital of the local chieftain under the Vijayanagara Empire.

On the morning of the festivities, a huge wooden log is set afire in the courtyard of the temple for a firewalking ritual later in the evening. And, as part of the annual festivities, Goddess Urkatheshwari is taken on a chariot around the village in a procession. After the procession culminates at the temple in the evening at around 5 pm, Mahadevappa -- the chief priest of the temple takes a small vessel and approaches the burning embers of the log, dips into it and pours the burning coal over his head which is protected by just a red coloured vestment.

A video of the ritual taken by one of the devotees shows the priest fainting after the firey bath, and being carried away by the devotees. By taking a bath of burning coals, the priest is trying to please the Goddess and is invoking her blessing and protection for the villagers, explained local resident Rashmi Nitin.

Following the chief priest’s ‘trial by fire’, the other devotees jump into the burning coal embers as part of the fire walk ritual.

Theemithi or fire walk ritual is common in some temple festivities in South India. Recently, in a fire-walk ritual in another temple in Ramanagar district, the temple priest stumbled while doing a fire-walk and sustained burn injuries to his legs. Three years ago, a 65-year man died after falling into the burning coal embers as he took part in the fire-walk at Kalikamba temple in Mandya district.


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