Friday, 16 December 2011

Fire Walking

B Premanand

Walking on Red Hot Coals Does Not Prove Anyone’s Chastity

Experiment – 17

Effect: Walking on red hot coals without the feet getting burnt

Props: A pit one foot broad (minimum), eight feet long and three inches deep.  At least 100 kg firewood, well dried and hard, kerosene, matches, metal leveler, two planks to blow off ash, one bamboo pole 6’ long, 2 kg salt crystals and water. Also, an antiseptic cream, such as Burnol, as a first aid.

Method: Make a it one foot across, 8’ long and 3’ deep. Stack the dry firewood in the middle of the pit, crisscrossed to allow air space between each piece. Pour kerosene around the firewood and light it.  It takes about two hours to get the firewood reduced to red hot coals.  Remove the unburnt wood with the help of the bamboo, and spread the coals evenly in the pit with the metal leveler.  Blow off the ash from the coal with the boards and sprinkle crystal salt particularly in the centre where you will be walking.  Walk swiftly with steady steps on the coal, without trying to jump or run.  You will be surprised to find that your feet do not burn.  Salt helps to attract moisture from the atmosphere, and also prevents formation of ash on the coal.  Watch for stone, metal pieces and glass pieces thrown on the coals. These could be dangerous if agent of godmen try to create problems on the sly.  Or if someone is pushed into the pit.

(Note: In the epic Ramayana, when Rama suspected his wife, Sita, of committing adultery, she had to walk on fire to prove her chastity. In the title of this article, Premanand refers to this episode - carvaka4india).

Factors that Prevent Burning

  Factors that act together to prevent the foot from burning
  • Water has a very high specific heat capacity (4.184 kJ/K kg), whereas coals have a very low one. Therefore the foot's temperature tends to change less than the coal's.
  • Water also has a high thermal conductivity, and on top of that, the rich blood flow in the foot will carry away the heat and spread it. On the other hand, coal has a poor thermal conductivity, so the hotter body consists only of the parts of the coal which are close to the foot.
  • When the coal cools down, its temperature sinks below the flash point, so it stops burning, and no new heat is generated.
  • Firewalkers do not spend very much time on the coals, and they keep moving.
  • Calluses on the feet may offer an additional level of protection, even if only from pain; however, most people do not have calluses that would make any significant difference.

Risks involved when doing firewalking improperly

  • People have burned their feet when they remained in the fire for too long, enabling the thermal conductivity of the coals to catch up.
  • One is more likely to be burned when running through the coals since running pushes one's feet deeper into the embers, resulting in the top of the feet being burnt.
  • Foreign objects in the coals may result in burns. Metal is especially dangerous since it has a high thermal conductivity.
  • Coals which have not burned long enough can burn feet more quickly. Coals contain water, which increases their heat capacity as well as their thermal conductivity. The water must be evaporated already when the firewalk starts.
  • Wet feet can cause coals to cling to them, increasing the exposure time.
(Text Courtesy: Wikipedia; Photos: Fire walking being exposed by rationalist activists at World Atheist Conference, Tiruchirappalli, Tamil Nadu in 2010; Photos by carvaka4india)


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