Thimithi is an annual festival of Tamil Nadu celebrated every year during the month of Aipasi in Tamil calendar, that falls between the month of October and November according to Gregorian calendar. It is celebrated in honour of Draupati Amman (Draupadi, wife of the five Pandavas).
This festival has its origin in Tamil Nadu itself. It is an International Hindu festival celebrated in others parts of the world as well. Fiji, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia, Mauritius and areas with large south Indian population also celebrates this festival other than India.
The Story behind Thimithi
Mahabharata is an hindu epic. It is the story of war between Kauravas and Pandavas. When Pandavas lost everything including their wife- Draupadi in the game of gamble. Duryodhana asked his younger brother to strip Draupadi but she was saved by Krishna. After this she took a vow that she will wash her hair with Duryodhana’s blood. After thirteen years, when the Mahabharata war ended with the victory of Pandavas, Draupadi washed her hair with Duryodhana’s blood and combed her hair with. This victory ended with Draupadi walking barefoot on burning coals to prove her purity. This process is known as Thimithi.
How Thimithi festival is celebrated in India
The celebration begins months before the actual event. Devotees takes strict vegetarian diet and practice fasting in order to make themselves pure from inside as well as outside. They also take part in grand prayer sessions. It is a common belief that only those devotees who are as pure as Goddess Draupadi will be able to walk on fire without getting any type of injuries.
One week before Diwali, a flag with the photo of Arjuna and God Hanumana is hoisted. It marks the beginning of the celebration. From that day Mahabharata is read every night till two days after Thimithi. The final chapter of the Mahabharata is read on the last day and this festival comes to an end. In some places some excerpts of Mahabharata are enacted. Kessaka Samharan also takes place in this celebration. It denotes the slaying of Commander-in-Chief Keesaka by Bheem when he tried to seduce Draupadi. Arjuna- Draupadi marriage is also enacted.
To commemorate Pandavas victory in the 18 days long battle, a silver chariot procession takes place two days before the actual event. Also, Kumbuduthandam is also performed where devotees rolls around the temple ground for three times covering 150 m per round.
The Fire Walking Ceremony
The pit for fire walking is prepared a night before Thimithi. It is 2.7m in length. A small pit is also prepared at the end. It was filled with cow milk.
On the day of Thimithi, the ritual starts at 4 am in the morning and ends before 11 am. Throughout the ritual the pit keeps on burning. After initial worshipping, all the devotees taking part in Thimithi are tied a yellow thread with some turmeric and sparay of Margosa or a leaf of Neem on their wrist. The Chief priest of the temple is the first person to start fire walking. He walks on fire with a Karakam on his head. It is a decorated pot filled with sacred water.
After him other participants walks on fire. They cool their feet in the pit at the end filled with cow’s milk. It is because in Hindu tradition cow milk is considered very sacred. In the end the fire in the pit is extinguished with milk and water. This festival ends after two days of Thimithi when final chapter of the Mahabharata was read and the flag that was hoisted on the first day is lowered.
It is believed that the Kanni Amman Kovil temple located in Manappakkam village of Chengalpattu in Tamil Nadu, India is celebrating this festival from past two centuries. Around 5000 people perform Thimithi, ear piercing, make Pongal, shave their head fully and cuts goat in front of the temple as an offering to Goddess Arulmigu Kanni Amman and celebrate this festival.
Thimithi celebration in Singapore
In Singapore, the Chief Priest leads the procession of people for 4 km from Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Serangoon Road to Sri Mariamman Temple in South Bridge Road where Thimithi takes place. Following this, another Chariot procession takes place in the evening. Like India, this festival ends with reading final chapter of the Mahabharata two days after the fire walking event.
Current Status of Thimithi festival in India
Most people are of the view that this kind of festival should not be celebrated in modern India. This is because there were cases when people especially children were injured while walking on fire. Some cases of children getting injured during Thimithi were reported in Tamil Nadu. But the main reason behind this has been unsteadiness in walking. While walking on burning coals Children losses their balance. As a result, they get injuries on other parts of their body rather than their feet.
Author: Anjali Datt
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