Rituals that burn each year
Government hospitals across the city receive many burn injury cases during the Tamil month of Aadi due to the ‘Thee Midhithal Vizha’ (walking on ember bed). Despite the dangers and risks it comes with, devotees follow the rituals every year. DT Next reports
CHENNAI: Religious fervour is at its peak across the State during the Tamil month of Aadi. Rooted in religious sentiments, temples across the State conduct various rituals celebrating the Goddess Shakti, popularly called Amman.
However, there have been accidents at some of these ceremonies among the elderly and children, with victims suffering third-degree burns, and in some cases, those injuries have turned fatal.
Barely two weeks back, a 14-month-old girl suffered burn injuries after she slipped from her grandfather’s arms and fell into an ember bed at a temple festival during Thee Midhithal Vizha (fire walking ceremony) near Uthukottai in Tiruvallur. He had carried the child with him as he had made a promise to walk on fire for the child’s well-being. But the child suffered more than 36% burn injuries.
However, this is an isolated case that was brought to Kilpauk Medical College and Hospital for burns treatment. Many children and adults fall victim to such burns and other accidents in Aadi.
The Baliamman Koil in Villivakkam has also witnessed many similar accidents. While fatalities give pause to the devotees, it’s temporary, as the temple has not seen any decline in festivities and celebrations in Aadi.
J Shinu (45) from Villivakkam used to usually lead the devotees on the ember bed during the thiruvizha (temple festival). It shocked everyone to see him lose balance on the ember bed and take a fatal fall. Being overweight, it was difficult for the fire-safety personnel to rescue him from the fire. He suffered burn injuries and also head injury, which led to his death.
Injuries every year
“At least 14 people have suffered various injuries during the Aadi festivities at our temple. Three of them have died due to the burn injuries since 2012,” says a devotee, and a resident of Villivakkam.
The public does get scared of the fire accidents every Aadi but their devotion overrides other emotions. “Every year, we have at least one person suffering burns by falling on the ember bed,” he adds. “But that doesn’t stop anyone.”
During rituals like walking on fire, and piercing the face and back in worship of Amman, the loss of lives and severe injuries during the process are definitely preventable.
Kathiravan (33) from Ayanavaram and Manoharan (56) from Villivakkam also sustained about 41% and 53% burns respectively after falling on the fire bed during the celebrations on the day of last year’s temple festival.
“People perform these rituals out of their own faith. They want to fulfil their vows and honour their promises made to the divine. Nobody forces them to do it. Devotees are aware of the consequences, but they still do it despite knowing that they would not get any compensation or financial aid. The local police make arrangements, and Fire and Rescue teams are also deployed,” said a priest from Solaiamman Koil in Ayanavaram.
Despite teams of medical personnel, and Fire and Rescue teams being deployed during major temple festivals in Aadi, such accidents do occur every year.
The Burns ward in Kilpauk hospital has new admissions during Aadi, which includes burns sustained during a fall while walking on the ember bed.
“A lot of people suffer burns of high degree and have to be treated in the ICU. We’ve seen patients with severe burns on their face and legs. It’s advisable to not hold children while performing these rituals because accidents can lead to severe injuries and recovery is difficult,” said a doctor from the plastic surgery department at the Kilpauk Medical College and Hospital.
Nonetheless, no injuries and burns deter patients from performing the same rituals the following year.
“The number of cases of burns and accidents are not high but some of the cases have high-degree burns and injuries. The skin of children is more sensitive than that of adults, and are likely to suffer severe injuries even at the slightest exposure to heat. One has to be very careful while performing these rituals, especially since children are unaware of the proceedings and consequences of such practices,” says a consultant paediatrician at a GH in the city.