I (Almost) Fell Into a Burnin’ Ring of Fire

Timiti Festival at the Munneswaram Temple in Sri Lanka

Firewalking at the annual Munneswaram Festival in Sri Lanka

So, not to be a jerk or anything, but I’m pretty sure I did something on Sunday that you did not do.

After some sightseeing and shopping, Has, the World Vision staffer who is our guide and handler here, asked if we’d rather shop some more or swing by a Hindu temple to watch a ceremony that was taking place. The latter easily won out.

About an hour after her seemingly harmless question, we found ourselves in the middle of crushing throngs of thousands of people, watching men and boys walk across 1000-degree coals.

Being the only foreigners there, we very much stuck out. And, as a result, we were also afforded special access. Some generous police officer waved us inside the ropes, where we got to sit next to the families of all the men who were walking. At first, that seemed like a great idea. Once the ceremony actually started, it turned a bit crazy. As the crowds rushed in to the center and the police seemed suddenly absent, we held our ground as best we could.

We were at the Munneswaram Temple complex, which dates back 1,000 years. That temple is dedicated to Shiva, one of the three main deities in the Hindu trinity, known as the Transformer or the Destroyer. The temple’s main annual festival, the Munneswaram Festival, lasts for 28 days and includes an evening of firewalking, borrowed from the Timiti Festivals at other Hindu temples in this part of the world.

Hinduism, currently about 15% of this primarily Buddhist country, has a long and somewhat difficult history. The mythical origins say that Sri Lanka was formed when Vayu, the god of wind and air, humbled his friend, Mount Meru, by blowing off his top — the summit landed in the ocean south of India and became Sri Lanka. Historically, the Hindus here descended from the Tamils of India, and they still practice the Tamil form of Hinduism.

The religion survived on the island, even when the Portugese Jesuits practiced forced conversion to Christianity. That was followed by forced conversions by Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, and Anglicans. Yet Hinduism remained strong, in part by syncretizing with the majority Buddhism. In my next post, I want to think out loud about this religious partnership, and what keep Christianity from that.

Back to the firewalking. Watching it happen — the frenzy around it, the sense of excitement and fear, the intense heat that we could feel even 10 meters away — was profound. A follower of Christ who witnesses it can’t help but wonder, Is my faith anywhere near that intense?

I’d love for you to follow us on the trip and consider sponsoring a child as well.

  • Jim Armstrong

    It is a time-honored test of faith in a very real sense. But there is little likelihood of physical damage if you do as instructed, especially after a few have led the way to ensure that the coals are properly prepared. But it is a pretty impressive event, as you report. I wish you a continuing rich visit!!

  • http://positivelifelessons.wordpress.com Laurie Damberg

    I appreciate your contemplative thought about your faith. Perhaps one could also ask, when having gone through a fire, do you allow God to purify you or do you resist? The intensity of growth and maturity with The Holy Spirit is there when you seek, you will find.

  • http://www.winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

    Really Jim, what are you saying? Is it an actual test of faith, or there is some trick to it? So, if you know the trick, it just looks like you are being faithful, right? This ritual says nothing about faith. It says something about how backwards this world still is. I’m sure it was a profound experience, because it is designed to be intense and frightening and seemingly magic and something that would require supernatural intervention. That doesn’t mean that it is.

    Interesting to be the minority color isn’t it Tony?

    • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

      Thanks, Buzz Killington.

      • http://www.winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

        Part of me wants to respond to what I think you mean, but part of me wants to say “huh?”

  • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

    Tony, you made me think of an interesting contrast: walking atop fire versus walking atop water.

    But I also thought of the story in Daniel of the three young men (Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego) who were thrown into the furnace by Nebuchadnezzar because they chose to remain steadfast in their faith (Daniel 3:13-30). And, of course, it was by their faith that they survived the fire.

    But there’s something not found in Protestant Bibles that is found in Catholic/Orthodox Bibles. It’s called “The Prayer of Azariah” (Azariah was Abednego’s original name; see Daniel 1:7). It’s beautiful in its expression of deep faith while in the midst of fire, and worth reading.

    In Protestant Bibles (like the NIV, New King James, etc.) you won’t find it. It appears in Catholic and Orthodox Bibles after Daniel chapter 3 verse 23 (where in Protestant Bibles it would otherwise appear between verses 23 and 24). In the Catholic New American Bible, it is found at Daniel 3:24-45 (see here: (http://www.usccb.org/bible/daniel/3).

  • http://www.blackcoffeereflections.com Tim

    A couple years ago, I got to visit Vietnam and Cambodia with my seminary and we had opportunities to spend time in Buddhist, Hindu, Cao Dai temples, mosques and different types of Christian churches. I couldn’t help but appreciate Robert Wright’s work Evolution of God, not just from an anthropological level but especially on the relational person to person.
    I did find myself wondering similar things comparing the quality of my faith to those with different faiths, then the spiritual condition/commitment of my community with other communities in different belief systems.
    In short, I found it to be humbling, found greater meaning in the idea that God loves all and humanity’s deep desire to “find God.” Looking forward to your thinking out loud posts.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qHRTgEhm_Ds Maximo Balwinski

    This is an excellent read


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X