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.

Photo: Daijiworld

The rules of Agni Keli have always been very simple. The devotees who take part in the fire fight split into two groups and face each other from a distance of 10 – 15 meters. Armed with a hefty supply of burning palm frond torches, they start throwing them at each other, trying to hit as many devotees from the opposing group. During the holy fire fight, each participant can only make five throws, so everyone tries to make their shots count. To prevent serious burns, the men only wear pieces of cloth around their lower body, but they are often set ablaze during the fiery ritual. If a person suffers any burns, they are sprayed with water of Kumkumarchane.


Because everyone has a limited number of throws, Agni Keli only lasts about 15 minutes, but that’s apparently enough to please the goddess Durga and the spectators watching from a safe distance.


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