VELLORE: Hundreds of people thronged the Ponniyamman temple in Alankuppam village In Vaniyambadi taluk on Thursday to witness the ritual of fire-walking as part of the village festivity.
Amidst religious fervour and devotion, a group of devotees, carrying the traditional karagam on their heads, walked into the firepit near the temple, to fulfil their vows to the deity. Kids who assembled there, clapped their hands in ecstasy to see others walking on fire.
Natarajan, a farmer from Vaniyambadi who had come here with his family to take part in the festival, said that he had never missed the occasion.
He said that he had observed a vratham for two weeks to walk on the fire as a thanks-giving gesture to the local deity who had fulfilled his wishes.
“I observed a very strict vratham by having two baths a day and foregoing meals twice,” he said and added that it had helped him physically and spiritually a lot. He said, “I heard that firewalking had become a big sport in western countries where it has a proven a track record of faith healing next to praying.”
His wife Kavitha lamented that the culture was slowly vanishing here. “The government should take steps to promote rural festivals like this in a big way,” she added.
For the village youngsters, however, it appeared rather a fun sport to accompany the devotees than to walk on the fire pit. They said that they had gone to the nearby Palar river bed where all the devotees took bath and took out a procession back to the temple (a distance of around half a km), reciting devotional songs and carrying the karagam on their heads.
The group then completed three rounds of firewalking by encircling the temple before the kargams were placed in a ’swing’ in front of the temple, to bring down the pressure on the devotees.
A village elder Damodharan said that firewalking was unique to this village and had been in practice for centuries. Exactly 15 days after the Pongal, the firewalking festival was conducted every year, he said. “The interesting aspect is that there is no break,” he noted.
All these festivals were unique and they attracted huge crowds despite the changing life styles in the villages. The festival at the nearby Periyankuppam village is considered to be one of the biggest in the district, attracting thousands of devotees from all over the State.
Of course, these festivals provided a good market place for the small time vendors who put up stalls to sell various items like toys, balloons, eatables, bangles, household items and so on.
Entertainers from across the borders from the nearby State of Andhra Pradesh also camped here to keep the kids amused with their rural model of rollercoasters, see-saws, etc.
The last one (also called as ‘fruit festival’) is held at Iyyanoor village sometimes in the month of May and is literally flooded with fruits grown locally like mangoes, bananas and so on.