July, 12, 2021
The Silk Road Journal by Mahika Ming
The Katharagama Esala Perahera festival began few days ago. There are various views about the practice of “fire walking” which takes place during the festival. It is believed to be held for centuries to invoke blessings on the people & the country. Fire walking is mainly a religious ceremony held in various countries with ancient cultural practices. It is still practiced in India, Sri Lanka, Malayas, Japan, China, Fiji, Mauritius, Tahiti, New Zealand, Mauritius, Bulgaria, & even Spain (Ref cultural statistics). Historic evidences indicate that it was practiced in ancient Greece as well. Fire walking is done in many ways with the most common being the practice of walking over a layer of embers. Another method is for the people to walk through a blazing log fire & in places such as Fiji there are red hot stones to walk on. On more serious occasions some devotees lash themselves with a flaming torch.
In some societies people walk on fire to ensure a good harvest while another intends to purify the participants. In other societies people who are accused for wrong doings are asked to walk on fire to prove their innocence. In most societies it is believed that those who lack faith will suffer during the walk & the faithful will not while some devotees take the challenge to fulfill vows.
Zhejiang province in the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) is also known for fire walking. Specially, the men in Zhejiang display their bravery at the traditional 'Lianhuo' festival which is dedicated for fire walking to ward off evil spirits & pray for good fortune. As per Chinese sources fire walking is connected to the “Double Ninth” festival which is listed in the Intangible Cultural Heritage of the province. The 9th day of the 9th (lunar) month is when they celebrate the “Chongyang” festival usually falling in October in the modern Gregorian calendar.
According to the ancient writing known as Yi Jing (Book of Changes) number 6 was the “Yin” meaning feminine/ negative & number 9 was the “Yang” meaning masculine/ positive. Therefore, two nines created the Double Ninth (Chongyang) festival signifying double positive/masculine energy. Chong in Chinese language means "double”. So the Chinese considered it worth celebrating (Ref Chinese sources). On this day men perform acts to display their masculinity & engage in climbing mountains in addition to walking on fire. Hence, this festival is also called "Mountain climbing festival".
Critics say Sri Lanka is walking on fire at present. The new finance minister said we have had worse fires during the last stages of the war. It was positive to see the minster being positive. At the same time many criticize & insult the 6.9 million voters who elected President Gotabaya at present. May be some of those who voted are also not happy. What can we learn from the Chinese? They walked on fire for more 70 years to create a super power. If we work hard to balance the positive & negative energy (6 & 9) to our benefit we can achieve the Double Ninth energy mark. Most citizens are aware of the Katharagama fire walking festival & the President & the Finance minister grew up there witnessing the event. If Sri Lankans create synergy, Sri Lanka will benefit & the Chinese may want to learn from us to write the new book of changes (Yi Jing).