© 2023 Dr. M. Sheppard

Pattini Ceremonies Myths Shrines Community Pattini Community Pattini 2 Family Pattini

The fire to the right of Performance area  had been kept going throughout the night This was for the later Fire Walking/Trampling. According to traditional beliefs, Singhalese people believed that the three elements of Earth, Fire and Water need to be in balance.  If there is too much of the element Fire then this leads to overheating which  leads to droughts, hot feverish diseases etc. Therefore fire walking/trampling  is to control this element and cool the excess heat.

In preparation for the Fire Walking/Trampling two chairs had been placed in front of the Toran. These held the offering baskets. There was a folded red shawl on the back of the chairs. At first one dancer danced alone and was then joined by another. They each held bundles of areca flowers in their hands. Then they were joined by three other dancers and the dancing became more spirited with twirling and somersaulting as the drumming became faster. They circled around the offering baskets.

Then after about half an hour of this dance the lead tovil dancer took up the red shawl and moved out of the dance  to the fire. He then placed the shawl around the shoulders of the officiant and  the rest of the dancers  moved away from the Performance Area to the fire.  

The Officiant with the red shawl then walked around the fire singing about the ceremony from the Pattini Texts. He sang the legend of Devol- deviyo’s shipwreck and his arrival in Sri Lanka with the help of the Deity Sakra, then how he was refused settlement until he demonstrated his great skills of magic to the assembled Deities breaking through the huge fiery fences, swallowing the fire and trampling on the embers until they were cold.

The beat of the drum changed and the Officiant threw the coconut flower he had been holding, onto the embers. Then he lustrated himself with some water from the clay pot standing near one end of the fire and trampled backwards and forwards through the fire, emulating Devol-deviyo overcoming the fiery barriers. The other Tovil dancers followed, each first being sprinkled with water  from the clay pot by the Head Tovil Dance.

When all the Tovil Dancers had “fire walked” the Officiant called on the community members who wished to do so to follow. Again he sprinkled water from the clay pot on each one first before they trampled through the embers.


Fire Walking/Trampling - Gini-Pagima

This is based on the myth of the Sinigama  Deity Devol-diviyo who tried to land in Sri Lanka when he and his companion traders from India were ship wrecked off the coast. They were prevented by the resident Deities until they managed to land at Sinigama (a few kilometres north of Hikkaduwa) which was under the control of Pattini. She set them a test to walk through the enormous walls of fire as she had heard they were proficient in spells and wished for a demonstration. This myth is related in Text 28 of the Pattini Texts (P146-150 Obeysekere) See section on Deities -for fuller information on the Deity Devol-deviyo

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Gam Madua Part 11 Fire walking


They then moved around the fire. The Officiant now had the red cloth around his neck  They all danced around the dying embers of  the fire. The head Officiant had a clay pot of purified water by the fire with a coconut flower “whisk” which he placed on the embers. He had  first sprinkled water from the pot  around the fire. They started singing again as the drumbeat continued.

Following the Tovil dancers Fire walking song, the Officiant danced to and fro over the embers. Then the Tovil dancers, followed by the villagers who chose to. In each case, first the Officiant sprinkled water from the clay pot on their heads before they trampled over the embers.

First The baskets were thoroughly incensed by an Assistant whilst  the head Tovil dancer sang from the texts  concerning fire walking. He was joined by another dancer and they sang alternate verses from the Pattini texts as they swayed slowly to the drumbeat, one of the officiating Tovil dancers added the red shawl to the back of the chairs.  When the drumbeat became faster the rest of the Tovil dancers gathered around the baskets and the dancing became faster with twirling and acrobatics etc.

Children also did fire walking

Some needed encouragement!

First the Officiant.

Followed by the rest of the Tovil Dancers.

Then the people of the community  - men, women and children.

When all who wished to Fire Walk had had their turn, everyone returned to the Performance Area for the concluding stages of the Ceremony.

And women