Firewalk: A Poem
Wood was piled twenty feet high,
An ancient ode to the burning sky.
All day the fire roared and spit,
To be raked at five into a pit
Thirty feet long and six feet wide.
Around the perimeter, garlands were tied
With orange and yellow sacred blooms
And exotic resinous perfumes.
While in the distance music drifted
On the breeze, the focus shifted
To chanters in a hypnotic daze,
Dancing and shouting—coming this way.
In long procession, they perambulated
Around the coals, while we watched and waited;
Then all at once the frenzy surged,
And all attention seemed to merge
Into the walk across the blaze,
As each one strode with arms upraised.
And so it went without respīte,
As faith flamed deep into the night.
About My Firewalking Experiences
I got the chance to live in South Africa from 1999-2004, and in that time I learned all about India, Indians, and Hindus. After all, I was told, SA harbors the largest percentage of practicing Hindus outside of India.
In the 1860s Indians were brought to South Africa as indentured laborers on the sugar cane plantations. What's so fascinating is that the Hindus amongst them were cut off from mother India for so long that they kept traditions that were all but lost in India itself.
I had the opportunity to attend multiple firewalking festivals each year I lived there, though much more often when I moved to Durban (where the sugar cane area is located.) Unlike most other firewalking experiences of modern times, they do it the old-fashioned way: Traditional, hardcore, and no messing around. It was really like stepping back in time.
Most of the festivals nowadays have very short walks, but in South Africa they were up to 20-30 feet in length, a foot deep, and six feet wide. The heat from the fire was too hot to get within 60 feet, but was more bearable after the coals had been raked. Those raking the coals were continuously doused in cold water, which instantly turned to steam. They took short turns, as the heat was intense!
They say it is an act of faith, and that Goddess Draupadi covers the fire with a white cloth for devotees to walk over. Ambulances were always on hand, though of hundreds of firewalkers, some of whom stood in the middle of the coals for up to 30 seconds, I never saw one whose feet were burned.
© 2011 Kate P