Agni Keli – Unique Indian Tradition Encourages Fighting Fire with Fire

Agni Keli, also known as the Fire Fight of Kateel Durga Parameswari Temple, in Mangalore, India, is a unique ritual which has hundreds of devotees throwing burning palm fronds at each other, to appease the Hindu goddess Durga.

Each year, the Festival of Kateel Durga Parameswari Temple is celebrated over 8 days, in the month of April. It commences on the night before Mesha Sankramana Day, and features a series of themed performances, the most intriguing of which is Agni Keli. On the second night of the festival, hundreds of devotees gather at the temple of Durga, in Mangalore, to carry out a centuries-old tradition that involves throwing and getting hit with burning palm fronds. The fiery action attracts thousands of spectators, who watch as the torch-wielding men try to set each other ablaze.

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India’s Controversial Baby Dropping Ritual Is Back

The devotee scales the high walls of the religious shrine on a rope, a bucket dangling off his back. Once he is at the top (typically about 30ft high), he miraculously retrieves a baby from the bucket, handing it over to a bunch of men standing on the balcony. One of these men takes hold of the baby’s hands and feet, holding the child as though it were a basket. He swings the kid back and forth in the air, exclaiming a chant in the praise of the Lord. And then, shockingly, the baby is dropped.

Baby dropping could be India’s most bizarre ritual. Screaming, wailing babies are dropped from several meters into the air, and there are a group of 14 to 15 men standing right below, holding a blanket that breaks the baby’s fall. Just as it bounces on the blanket once, it is caught by one of the men and handed over to the mother. Understandably, it takes several minutes before the baby recovers from the shock. Read More »

Famadihana – Dancing with the Dead in Madagascar

The people of Madagascar have a unique ritual to celebrate family ties called Famadihana, also known as ‘turning of the bones’. It is a festival celebrated every 7 years or so, during which family crypts are opened up and the remains of dead ancestors are brought out to be wrapped in a new cloth. The Malagasy then dance with the corpses in great joy. Live music is played, animals are sacrificed and the meat is distributed to various guests and members of the family. The elders explain to their children the importance of the dead who are lying before them. Famadihana is viewed as a day to show your family just how much you love them. Extended families get together and celebrate kinship.

According to Malagasy belief, people are not made from mud, but from the bodies of the ancestors. Hence they hold their forefathers in high regard. They also believe that unless the bodies decompose completely, the dead do not leave permanently and are able to communicate with the living. So until they are gone forever, love and affection is showered on them through the Famadihana festival. It is interesting to note that the festival is not an ancient practice of Madagascar. Its origins cannot be traced beyond the seventeenth century. Read More »

Malaysians Sleep in Coffins for Good Luck

Most people would prefer to stay out of a coffin for as long as possible, but for devotees at the Looi Im Si temple, in Penang, Malaysia, sleeping in a coffin is the best thing that could happen to them.

The Taoist temple located in Jelutong worships deities linked to the afterlife, like Xiao Xian Bo, one of the two guards responsible for bringing the dead to the other side. Chu Soon Lock, the temple’s secretary, claims his grandmother founded the temple after receiving instructions in a dream, from hell deity Di Fu Bao Zhang. As the years went by the temple started worshiping various other deities like Ji Gong, Si Da Jin Gang and Mile Buddha. The weirdest part of the story of Looi Im Si temple started in 2007, when the spirit of Xiao Xian Bo arrived at the holy place and began addressing his devotees through the body of Chu Soon Lock’s brother.

Chu Soon Chye says he doesn’t know a word of Teochew, yet he speaks the dialect fluently each time he is possessed by Xiao Xian Bo. Back in 2008, when he was in a trance, Soon Chye instructed temple devotees to place five coffins within the temple, and only allow people with serious problems caused by bad luck to sleep in them. Only one of the five coffins is used, because the other four are apparently too small to fit into.

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Thai Temple Offers the Ultimate Chance at Rebirth

Wat Prommanee, a Buddhist temple, 66 miles northeast of Bangkok, offers believers the chance to lay in a coffin for a few moments, then rise up and feel reborn…

I for one find coffins to be really creepy and I wouldn’t dream of lying down in one if someone paid me all the money in the world, but at Wat Prommanee people actually wait in line and pay a fee for a chance to do just that. It’s one of the strangest ceremonies in the world, but one that has been rising in popularity ever since the temple started practicing it, over six years ago. Nine colorful coffins dominate the main hall of Wat Prommanee Temple, and hundreds of people lie down in them every day, playing dead for about a minute and a half, listening to religious chants, and rise up at command feeling cleansed and relaxed.

Wat Prommanee basically offers a daily resurrection service that many Thais believe washes away bad luck and helps prolong their life. It makes sense that people wish for a second chance in life, especially when confronted with serious issues, but lying down in a decorated coffin hardly seems like a solution. I mean, what if it doesn’t change anything, right? Well, they just go back and do it again. The ceremony apparently relaxes them and gives them positive thoughts, so many people come back to Wat Prommanee Temple for the chance to be reborn several times over a few years. All they have to do is pay a small fee. Read More »