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People from South India 'celebrate' the Theemithi (in Tamil Thee means fire, Mithi means stomp or walk) or fire walking festival by walking barefoot across a bed of hot burning wood to propitiate the Hindu goddess Draupati Amman. This ritual has been around for centuries, particularly in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. It is celebrated during the Tamil month of Aippasi ( October and November). The fire-walking ceremony is also celebrated in Mauritius, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia and other countries where a large chunk of South Indians live.
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The ritual begins with the local priest mostly pujari(s), carrying a pot of hot burning wood in his hand and a pot containing sacred water on his head, followed by the participants This Thimethi festival is done in honor of Draupati, wife of Pancha Pandavas of Mahabharata. The Pandava brothers were cheated by their cousins led by Dhuriyodana who not only took away their kingdom, etc., but also stooped to the lowest level and insulted Drupati in public which no woman could tolerate. She took a vow to comb her hair till the Pandavas emerged victorious in their battle against their cousins. With help from Lord Krishna, who acted as charioteer to Arjuna (one of the Pandava brothers) at last, Pandava brothers recovered whatever lost and Draupati combed her disheveled hair after Dushasana had been killed. He was the one who made an assault on her modesty right before other men. Draupati walked through the bed of fire and came out as fresh as she could be like a blossoming flower. In some villages in the past, scenes from Mahabarata were enacted at night in the form of dance drama but, this tradition is on the decline.
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As for safety, minor accidents do occur and occasionally children trip and fall on the bed and burn injuries When the devotees walk on the bed of fire, they temporarily go into a trance and come out without any injuries. Steady walking is a must. Such festivals improve people's concentration, determination and most importantly endurance under difficult situations.