Indian Street Festival

Info Courtesy of
The Tradition of Hindu Firewalking in Natal 
08 Feb 2010
Alleyn Diesel
Every Good Friday in Pietermaritzburg thousands of members of the Hindu community, and other interested onlookers, gather to watch a strange ceremony that has been practised for centuries in India, and faithfully followed in this South African city since the beginning of this century. This is the firewalking festival, in which over one hundred devotees of the Goddess Draupadi walk barefoot across a 7-8 metre pit of red-hot embers. As this takes place in a so-called Indian area, most other people who live in the city are largely unaware of the yearly occurrence of this ancient and colourful festival.

Annual firewalking ceremonies are held at four traditional Hindu temples in Natal: the 'Marriamen' Temple next to the Stri Siva Soobramoniar Temple in lower Longmarket Street, Pietermaritzburg;

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The  fire in the pit is prepared for the walking.

Firewalking was brought to Natal last century (from 1860 onwards) by Tamil-speaking Hindus from the Madras area of South India, whose ancestors had practised this as part of their village goddess tradition. An article in The Natal Witness of 14 April 1927, not long after the Pietermaritzburg 'Marriamen' temple was officially opened in 1925, reported that 'as usual' the annual firewalking ceremony would take place on Good Friday, and claimed that this ceremony had been observed for the last thirty years in Pietermaritzburg. (However, some people recall that for a number of years the holding of the festival was not observed in Pietermaritzburg, and that it was revived again at Easter 1926, since which time it has been held every year.)


                          





The crowd waits for the procession





























This firewalking festival appears to be confined to Natal, as I am informed that no other Hindu communities in South Africa practise it. Today the ceremony is no longer confined to Tamil circles, but has a wider appeal.
The firewalking ceremony as practised in Natal is held in honour of the Goddess Draupadi, one of the many goddesses worshipped by Hindus, who believe that both female and male deities are necessary to sustain the universe. The goddess is the great Earth Mother who is the active power of existence, animating the entire natural world, and can thus be worshipped as the Supreme Power of the universe. Although it is believed that she is basically One, she manifests herself in a great variety of forms: as Uma, Parvati, Lakshmi and others, she is gentle and benign, whereas in forms such as Kali, Durga, Mariamman and Draupadi she is fierce and at times malevolent. Thus the various goddesses represent the life-giving, preserving forces of nature as well as the destructive forces of disease, famine, decay and death, all of which are recognized as essential for conti'nuity and new life. Worshippers can approach the goddess with loving devotion, but there is also a need to propitiate her. Thus, various propitiatory rituals such as firewalking are practised in order to maintain or restore the health and wellbeing of individuals and the community.


























   





















Info Courtesy of 
The Tradition of Hindu Firewalking in Natal 
08 Feb 2010

Alleyn Diesel