Udappu fishing village, Chilaw District, Sri Lanka

The Mahabharata Story

"They're reading the Mahabharata story," explained S. Varagunan, a member of the temple's board of trustees. As the chanting continued, the area filled with devotees.

Bejewelled women clad in bright saris—their hair adorned with flowers, anklets jingling at their feet—and children of all ages, dressed in their festive best, mingled with the men, who were clad in white cloth for the fire walking.

Varagunan recalled walking over the fire when he was only three or four years old, hanging on to his father. He explained that the festival always begins with the flag-hoisting ceremony commemorating the first day of the Mahabharata War and a procession bearing the statue of the goddess Draupadi.

Thereafter follows a series of pujas (prayers and offerings), processions known as karakam perahera and the recitation of the Mahabharata epic. Enacted in the course of the festival are the garlanding of Arjuna (one of the Pandava brothers), the wedding of Draupadi to the five Pandavas, their exile in the forest and finally their victory over the enemy king.