Wednesday, January 7, 2015

1/1/15 Day 350 Walking on Fire in Langkawi, Malaysia

With the New Year arriving just as we landed on Langkawi Island, we have been invited by our CouchSurfing host Jeff to celebrate in a fresh and very different way. With a Chinese background Jeff invited us to participate in the New Year Celebrations at the Chinese temple located next door to his house. Excited to start the new year out in a n unfamiliar fashion we agree to partake in the New Years Day fire walking celebration. The three days preceding the event are a cleanse for the body: a vegetarian diet devoid of alcohol and other illicit activities to prevent being burned while firewalking. Many locals bring in their own personal deities to be blessed for the new year in the process. As a participant you are granted the option of carrying one of these precious objects during the walk. The ceremony is led by a virgin woman who is put into a trance to facilitate the actions of the Goddess of Mercy also known as the Goddess of 1000 Hands, and Kwan Yin. All participants follow the Goddess through the circle of life with a deity in hand to be blessed by the Goddess at the end of the circle, signifying a continuation of life as we move into the next year. For three nights the circle of life is trudged by the many Chinese (and us) hoping to start their new year with blessings and leave the previous year behind along with their bad luck to be trapped forever in the circle of life after it is disposed of in the fire at the end of the third night. With the circle of life dismantled the boat restraining all of our personal parcels of bad luck (with our name, hair snippet and nail clipping all wrapped up with incense and a flower) was carried to the sea where it was sent far far away in the ocean, after the rooster is sacrificed the boat is sent off and you can never look back only forward to the future. The whole time the kitchen of the temple is constantly pumping out heaping pans of fried rice, lavender taro soups, green bean curries, deep fried corn sweetbread, singapore noodles, and a never ending pot of white rice to help appease the growling vegetarian bellies of everyone involved. The temple served food at all hours of the four days to Chinese families dressed in white and yellow spooning rice and gulping coffee. At the end of each evenings spiritual journey a concert with a handful of untalented Asian pop artists in skimpy costumes (chosen by someone who is clearly out of touch) was performed at excessive volumes until midnight. It seemed quite odd that after such a respectable event that they would blast bad pop music to finish the night. To make it even better, since Jeff lives only a stones throw from the event, when we head away from the grounds to escape the nights performance we are haunted by the blaring speakers until the finale. On the final day the ceremony begins early in the day with the taming of the Dragonwood an event where six men try to wrangle a pole entranced by the spirit of the dragon into a hole across the arena. The wood resists with all of its might as the men force it towards the mount, firecrackers popping and snapping all around the ring to keep the spirit within range. They were sweating and truly struggling as the weight of the wood came into full force and lively energy for a matter of minutes. Finally they twisted and shoved the beastly pole into the hole. With that the celebration commenced and the bonfire was built, slowly but surely the huge fire was stacked log by log creating fuel to ignite the bonfire for the entire day. The flames slowly continued to lick the embers until 19:00 when the fire tenders started to become antsy, prodding and poking the bonfire with bamboo poles to ensure a path wide enough to be trodden. Finally the flames bowed down to a level where a handful of people (those with two weeks of vegetarianism under their belts) could walk through the flames with no ill effects thanks to their devout cleanse. The few of them finished and let the fire burn down to coals and it was up to the rest of us three day vegetarians to finish our journey into the new year. We filed into line to be assigned a deity to carry across the flames, Kevin Julie and I towards the back and waiting patiently while the precious statues and bundles were passed out in front of us. By the time it was our turn there were none left and we were gestured towards the next line for fire walking with a small inkling of disappointment. Just as Kevin was about to take his steps into the fire the Goddess looked at him and with no words pushed her flag into his hands, he grasped it to his chest and stepped importantly across the coals leaving his previous year on the other side. The two mates of the Goddess handed myself and then in turn Julie their flags to carry across the flames as well. This is such an honor and an unexpected act, that we feel so privileged to have received. We are told that the Goddess and her mates never let anyone take their flags! It all happened so fast all of the sudden I was walking slowly across the embers only feeling the heat of the fire on my last step and the relief flooding over me, as I turned around to look to Julie, who had just as quickly already crossed the threshold, so fast and it was over. We followed the rest to the temple where we stepped over a flame, keeping all bad spirits at bay on the other side and receiving a forehead stamp of a freshly sacrificed goat to signify the end of our vegetarian cleanse. From there to the kitchen when we finally received our victorious pork porridge, a sweet carnivorous creation to celebrate the happy New Year! 

Picking edible greens from the garden to donate to the temple for dinner
Incense for days

My personal nail clipping and hair clipping bundle to rid my bad luck from the previous year 
All bundled up with the incense and 1.60 ringgit offering
The deities waiting patiently (Jeff's personal deity is the largest beautiful wood in the back)

Being blessed
The Goddess of Mercy giving a special blessing 
The deities Kevin and Julie carried through the Circle of Life
Preparations that go into feeding hundreds of people a vegetarian diet, with constant cooking
The boat carrying all of our bad luck away, never look back
One of the many wildly inappropriate performances to follow the spiritual festival each night
Wrangling the Dragonwood

Building the fire

Rolling a log over the fire to flatten out a path
Jeff and his deity
Kevin, Julie, Jeff, Nosh and myself after walking on fire
The coals continuing to burn through the night 
Serving pork porridge to celebrate the end of the festival

No comments:

Post a Comment