Udappu fishing village, Chilaw District, Sri Lanka

Preparations for Fire Walking

Preparations for Fire Walking

Preparations for the fire walking in Udappuwa had begun with the stockpiling of a mountain of tamarind wood and the digging of a pit five metres long, more than a metre wide and half a metre deep in the sandy area before the temple.

The ritual setting of the fire had taken place that morning at the auspicious hour of 6:03. Throughout the day, the fire-builders heaved more logs onto the fire, from which tongues of orange flame leapt skyward, mingling with billows of smoke in the shimmering heat.

As we watched, the reverberating sound of drums announced a procession, which emerged from the temple led by drummers and flag bearers, the ringing of bells and the thin strains of flute music combining with the throb of the drums. There followed two turbaned, bare-chested warriors wearing brightly coloured trousers and carrying long-handled clubs, their skin daubed with paint. Two officials clad in white sarongs wound up the procession.

A white cloth was spread on the sand, and the flagstaff's stuck into the ground. The officials, or priests, sat on the cloth. Opening a book, one started chanting from it, as the warriors stood by in silence.