The Fire Walking Festival of Hindus in Kanpauk RegionDecember 9, 2023
The Fire Walking Festival of Hindus in Kanpauk Region
It is believed that after British’s wars of aggression in Myanmar, Hindu traditions and culture arrived at the region of Dawei together with the Indians who migrated to work in mines all over the Tanintharyi coastal area.
However, it can be said that Hinduism in this region is earlier than that because Hindu style images and sculptures of Hindu gods are found among the antiques discoverd in the city of Mutta Thukha Nagara @ Shin Mote Htee village and in Thagara Myo Haung village.
The Indians who came to the Dawei region to work in mines reached Kanpauk which is nearly sixty miles away from the city of Dawei in 1911, and they worked together with British in a joint venture mining company under the name of Merss Kanpauk-Myanmar Company.
Those Indians settled near the mines where they were working, and built a Hindu temple there for their religious affairs.
The older Hindu temple they built was situated in Myathidar Ward, Kanpauk.
After Myanmar has achieved its independence, although those Indians returned to their homeland, their new generations, their traditions, their culture and their religion were left in Kanpauk.
Devotees of Hinduism, starting from 1994, celebrate the festival of fire walking and knife climbing every year.
The festival is held in January every year, and lasts for seven days.
On the first day, the ceremonies of carrying vowed flower vase to be offered and raising a Hindu religious flag are held.
From the second day to the fourth day, the ceremonies of praying, worshiping, reciting mantras of Hindu’s Vedic scriptures and offering fire are held.
On the fifth day, the image of Seri Kaliammam (Locals call her Mama Phaya Mae Daw Gyi, meaning mother goddess.) is brought around the village to be worshiped by those who believe in Hinduism.
On the sixth day, the ceremonies of offering fire, offering traditional offertories and offering fruits are celebrated.
In the morning on the seventh day or the final day of the festival, preparations for the fire walking ceremony are made such as reciting mantras to prevent evil spirits from entering the area, digging the trench in which the fire walkers are walking on burning embers and making a ladder of knives. In the afternoon, burning embers are started to place in the trench dug. In this case, a new fire must not be kindled; a burning ember from the fire which has been offered to Mae Daw Gyi is taken in a new clean white cloth to ignite the firewoods in the trench.
Then, men who are going to fire walk and climb the knife ladder take a bath in Mi Kyaung Ai stream and make their vow. Then needles are pinned on their bodies; some on cheeks and some on back. We can see some people carrying bowls of offertories of coconuts and bananas, carts and motorcars carrying the paintings or the images of gods and goddesses, some men being pinned with small needles all over their bodies.
While pinning the needles, all men led by the Gujari Hindu monk recite mantras from Hindu Vedic scriptures. Only when they have finished being pinned, they proceed to the fire trench in order. A marrow, in which red scented oil is put, is cut into four pieces with a knife to offer up in oblation to their traditional guardian gods..Only then, the fire walking is started.
The fire walkers, one after another, repeatedly walk on burning embers along the trench, starting from 1:00 p.m. in the afternoon under the hot sun. While they are walking, they make their vow, pray and recite mantras.
After fire walking has been finished, a man climbs the knife ladder whose steps are of knives whose sharp blades are tied facing upward. There are altogether 21steps or 21 knives. The man climbs the ladder step by step, carrying a bowl of offertory including a coconut and some clusters of bananas to be offered to Mae Daw Gyi. Whenever he set his foot on a new step, it can be seen that limes placed on the sharp blade are cut off and drop off. When he reaches the top of the ladder, he offers the bowl of offertory he has carried to Mae Daw Gyi.
Only then, the festival is successfully finished.
The men who are going to fire walk and climb the knife ladder have to stay at the temple before the festival is held, vowing to keep the precepts and to have food without meat or blood of any animals. During the festival days, not only all the people who participate in the festival but also all the pilgrims and visitors who come to the festival are treated with rice, chickpea curry and traditional food excluding any meat or blood of animals without discriminating races or religions. Hindus believe that their wishes are fulfilled by participating in fire walking.
The present residence of Seri Kaliammam Mae Daw Gyi is newer, located in Bogyoke Ward, Kanpauk village. The festival of fire walking and knife climbing held at Mae Daw Gyi Temple is a rare Hindu festival in the region of Kanpauk, and it is densely crowded during the festival days. In the region of Dawei, there are other fire walking festivals held at Seri Bulokamma Mae Daw Gyi Temple in the city of Dawei and Seri Viamma Kaliammam Temple in Taung Thone Lone village.
The festival is held every year but it could not be held for two years because the village road was being repaired in those years. Thus, the festival has been held for 24 times until 2020. Beyond 2020, due to COVID-19, political situations and martial law, it is not possible for the festival to be held. And so, devotees just have to come and worship together in the temple.
Written by Chandra
Edited by Surya
Translated by Myo Win