At the tip of southeastern Sri Lanka is the shrine of Kataragama, sacred to Skanda, the son of Śiva. There, every year in the Sinhala month äsala (July/August), devotees walk the length of a pit containing a thick layer of red-hot coals. Many Buddhists and Hindus, the fire-walkers as well as ordinary devotees, believe that this custom of the annual fire-walking ritual comes from mythic times and commemorates Skanda's victory over the asuras (titans). In fact, the present form of fire-walking in Buddhist Sri Lanka dates not from the asura war, but from World War II. Furthermore, those who walk the fire are not members of a hoary ancient ritual lineage; rather, they are modern urban people, uprooted from traditional Sinhala Buddhist peasant culture. Fire-walking is a new phenomenon, and it is a product of recent social change.

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