It's becoming evening on the plains of Karnataka state and Swami Almitta comes to the guesthouse to escort us to the night's Big Event, a firewalk. Off we drive through a throng of people (think of people shoulder to shoulder walking down an 8-lane freeway) heading for the firepit half a mile away.
Swami takes our hand and deftly carves a portal in the wall of bodies, and we find ourselves at the pit's exit. Ten men are tending the coals which have been burning since ten in the morning. They are flattening them, and fanning them to a fierce heat. We are 20 feet away and the heat bakes our cheeks. They clean off the long iron shovels used to manipulate the coal, and steam instantly tells us how hot this fire is. We wonder about doing it ourselves, and we are told it is OK, anone can walk. We would, but we are in our robes and might trip. Next time for sure.
Sri Sivaratree Desikendra Mahaswamigal arrives, and comes to the it, drawing us near him so we can have the best view of the run.
Kala Bhairava is dancing in his warrior garb, frenzied, shouting, spinning as drums beat a tribal rhythm that is hypnotic, just what a firewalker needs. He will be the first across the coals.
A second man comes, with a pink cloth on his head holding a kumbha. He is already in a trance, barely of this world, guided by a team that holds him up and keeps his direction. He will walk second.
Swami presides over a little puja, and we all throw flowers into the pit. Drums roll, crowds cry for action, dancers to the ready. Here they come. Fast, lmost with pain bending their face, two who remain serene. One, then another, nearly tripping, racing for safety, right at us and by us. In less than a single minute it is done, and done well. They have come to do penance or to fulfill a vow spoken to God and they have fulfilled it. We drive off with swami, three horsemen riding ahead to part the mass of people. Back to our guesthouse with some rare time to tell our tales at Suttur Mutt.