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Walking Through the Fire to Honor the Goddess Kali

The Irrawaddy ...

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RANGOON—It was an evening among believers covered from head to toe in yellow turmeric paste and draped in saffron robes.

Last week, Rangoon’s Hindu devotees gathered at a temple in the eastern part of the city for an annual ‘fire-walking ceremony’ to honor the Goddess Kali, a powerful deity associated with empowerment.

Even though Hindus account for less than one percent of Burma’s population of 60 million, the colorful ceremony was well-attended and dozens of people, including local Buddhists, joined in.

Men, women and children queued up—some nervous, others deep in thought—to make a vow, promising to walk barefoot across hot embers in exchange for Kali granting them their wishes or her blessings.

Most people celebrated the ceremony by walking across a few-meter long pit filled with embers, but some took their devotion to the extreme. Several men pierced their cheeks with metal skewers to prove their faith in the goddess, while some carried images of Kali on a contraption held up with dozens of metal hooks into their skins.

Surrounded by admiring crowds, fathers carried their babies across the embers to offer thanks for a healthy birth or to ask the goddess for good health. Among the jubilant devotees there was an air of achievement for having braved the pains, in a show of faith to Kali. From some distance away, the heat of firewood could be felt even during the hot evening sun.