Insider/Outsider reflections: Fire Pooja at a Fijian Hindu Temple

Entering into a Hindu Temple to observe the closing ceremony of the fire pooja was a sacred and remarkable experience. The eyes is continually captured by the brightly colors which adorn the temple and Gods. The ears are enthralled by the beating of the drums and musical melodies. The body is soothed by the sweet aroma of incenses. The bare feet over the Temple floors becomes a direct testament to the holiness of the Hindu religion. One cannot help but to be awed by the religious sincerity of its believers.  




















They transcend the mundane to enter into an experience with the Supernatural… As an outsider, the closing ceremony of the fire pooja is as strange and peculiar as trying to understand a speaker of a different language. To its adherents it is a very sacred and profound experience. Outsiders, like me have a difficult time comprehending the symbolic language of the fire pooja. We all interpret our surroundings based on the experiences of our specific social and personal contexts. My Christian background, precludes my ability to genuinely interpret and experience the rituals as sacred. This is because Christianity typically interprets such rituals as "pagan" and an "abomination". It is no surprise that people time and time again have come to prejudicially subjugate the beliefs and practices of the “Other”. 

Yet, it does not take a lot of effort to respect and appreciate the cultural diversity of our world. It is critical then that we begin a process of deconstructing the Western mindsets that prevent us from a more peaceful and meaningful coexistence. The diverse belief of a people helps them cope with our social realities and connects them to the Divine.

I was unable to view the actual "fire walking". There were many adherents and observers at the Temple. By the time I made it to a more visible area, I was only fortunate to see one of the person make his final two steps over the charcoal. I am nonetheless content with the observations of this experience. 

I am also curious as to whether the fire pooja may become part of the UNESCO list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The ICH Convention holds that all the practices in the list must not be prejudicial to human rights. Given the body piercings and potential danger of walking over the charcoal, it would be dependent on a strong debate on human rights - freedom of religious expressions. I have pointed out in a previous piece that human rights in its contemporary form is very much a Western discourse. In any light, all this would depend on interest of the community members. I imagine it would also be very polemic at the national level due to the power structure of the Christianity and ethno-nationalism in Fiji. 

I am very grateful to Vinay for his guidance at my first ever Hindu experience…

More videos and pictures here

Recommended reading: Brown, C. H. (1984). "Tourism and Ethnic Competition in a Ritual Form: The Firewalkers of Fiji." Oceania 54(3): 223-244. **From my observations, an outdated source but still useful for the history, symbolism of the rituals


Pooja participants make processions around the main temple shrine, Aug 25 2012

2011 Fire Pooja 

Comments

  1. "How one views the world is influenced by what knowledge one possesses, and what knowledge one is capable of possessing is influenced deeply by one’s world view. The conditions under which people live and learn shape both their knowledge and their world views. The process of developing a world view that differs from the dominant world view requires active intellectual work on the part of the knower, because schools, society, and the structure and production of knowledge are designed to create individuals who internalize the dominant world view and knowledge production and acquisition processes."

    Ladson-Billings, G. (2000). Racialised discourses and ethnic epistemologies. In
    N. Denzin and Y. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research (2nd edition),
    pp. 258. Thousand Oaks: Sage.

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