Danger! Festivals May Bite, Charge, Burn, or Kill You

Around the World, Featured, Travel Safety — By Alex Resnik on July 22, 2010 at 6:00 am

Here at NileGuide, we’re always looking for new ways to get the word out about what’s best to see and do. That’s why we’ve created our brand-new Events Map tool: it’s a pretty awesome way to create a personalized map displaying the events you’re most interested in around the world.

Us? We wanted to see all the most dangerous events – you know, for safety’s sake…


Let’s face it, festivals are inherently a little dangerous. Whenever you get a large crowd of drunken revelers together, there’s bound to be some risk involved. That’s not the kind of festival we’re talking about here, though – it’s another kind completely: the kind that can and will kill somebody every year, year after year.

Charging bulls, gigantic logs rolling down a mountain, goats hoisted from a belfry, babies dropped from a roof, fireballs flung at crowds of people – these are the festivals designed for burns, scrapes, sprained ankles, hospitalization, and death – and they’re pretty cool. Enjoy!

Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri (岸和田だんじり祭)

The Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri is essentially a cart-pulling festival like thousands of others all over the country: you build a gigantic, cumbersome religious float, and get a team of inebriated men to pull it through town. What separates Osaka’s festivities is the sheer magnitude of both the event and the floats themselves. Add to that Osaka’s notoriously narrow streets and the high speeds of the floats, and it’s safe to put this event at threat level Orange.

Image: inside-brillantosaka.com

There are broken bones and float crashes almost every year, and deaths are not unheard of, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy yourself. The danjiri (floats) themselves are amazing examples of Japanese craftsmanship, usually ornately carved from wood in the shape of small temples or shrines. And the technique of the danjiri-toting men is admirable: turning tight corners at high speeds is what Osaka’s version of the festival demands, and what sometimes leads to fatalities.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Onbashira (御柱祭)

Onbashira is a festival held every six years in the Lake Suwa area of Nagano, Japan. The purpose of the festival is to symbolically renew the Suwa Taisha or Suwa Grand Shrine. “Onbashira” can be literally translated as “the honored pillars.” The festival is reputed to have continued, uninterrupted, for 1200 years. It’s held once every six years, in the years of the Monkey and the Tiger in the Chinese Zodiac, and is comprised of two parts: Yamadashi and Satobiki.

Image: blogs.sacbee.com

Yamadashi is the more spectacular of the two events, involving taking trees down from the nearby mountain to serve as new pillars for the shrine. Young men ride on top of these trees as they are allowed to tumble down the slope. Every time the event is held, there are injuries and often fatalities.

Image: ne.jp

Satobiki involves the symbolic placement of the new logs to support the foundation of the shrine buildings. The logs are raised by hand, with a ceremonial group of log bearers who ride the log as it’s being raised, and sing from the top to announce the successful raising.

Fireball Throwing Festival

Held in commemoration of a 1922 volcanic eruption, the fireball throwing festival is just as you imagine – the inhabitants of the town of Nejapa throw palm-sized balls of fire at each other. Every year, burns, injuries, and even fatalities do occur.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IWrZU_Bg3Ks[/youtube]

The volcano’s eruption forced all the inhabitants of the town to evacuate, leading to theories that the hot lava cascading through town was the local hero St. Jeronimo fighting off the devil. The festival has been held every year for a decade.

Solapur (Sholapur) Baby Dropping Ritual

Every year Indians gather in Sholapur for one of the most dangerous festivals in the world: the baby-dropping ritual. Believed by Hindus and Muslims alike to ensure their child’s future health, the ritual involves dropping babies (that’s right, babies) from the roof of the Baba Umer Durga shrine.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZYzCcxF2IzE[/youtube]

The babies are caught on a bed sheet spread out below, and although fatalities are said to be non-existent, it is certainly a breathtaking [Ed. note: pant wetting?] spectacle. As a 500-year-old tradition, children’s rights activists have their work cut out for them if they want to stop the practice.

Gloucester Cheese Rolling and Wake

The tradition of rolling a wheel of Double Gloucester cheese down Cooper’s Hill (between Gloucester and Cheltenham) is at least 200 years old. Originally held by and for the residents of the local village of Brockworth, the event now draws visitors from all over the world. The race involves (slightly, ahem, inebriated) participants chasing the cheese down the hill. First to catch the cheese or, more commonly, the first to cross the finish line, wins.

Image: calicobolico.wordpress.com

Anybody can participate (just show up at the top of the hill on the morning of the event), but beware: due to the uneven surface and steepness of Cooper’s Hill, a number of injuries – from sprained ankles to broken bones and concussions – occur every year.

Goat Tossing Festival

The goat tossing festival in the Spanish town of Manganeses de la Polvorosa takes place on the fourth Sunday in January. On that day, a group of teenagers from the village set out to round up and hog-tie one of the local goats. The goat is then carried in a crowded procession to the church at the center of town and thrown from the belfry, falling upwards of 15 meters to be caught [Ed. note: hopefully?] in a sheet of tarpaulin by the cheering crowd below.

The festival is held in honor of the town’s patron saint, St. Vincent, but is also said to have real historical precedence. Rumor has it that, long ago,  a local priest owned a goat that could be milked to miraculously feed the poor and hungry. One day, the goat got in to the belfry, and when the bells chimed the spooked goat charged out the window. Thankfully, someone was waiting with a blanket beneath the window to catch the precious animal.

Image: mostinterestingfacts.com

Nowadays, regardless of whether the goat is caught or not, animal rights activists are up in arms over the event, which has been successfully banned in past years. The town of Manganeses de la Polvorosa has been threatened with fines if they don’t stop the practice, but civic leaders claim they cannot stop their reckless citizens from engaging in the practice if they wish.

Hogueras de San Juan

Although the Bonfires of Saint John (Hogueras de San Juan) Festival is celebrated in many towns throughout Spain, the largest happens in Alicante, and it is considered the most important event in the city. The festival is held in honor of St. John, and although there are various events throughout the city, the most important are the bonfires themselves.

Image: biotive.com

People gather to create large pyres from any kind of wooden object, such as old furniture, and share hot chocolate while teens and children jump over the fires. Sounds dangerous, and it is, though very few injuries are ever reported. Make sure to bring your camera, and perhaps some marshmallows – although a bottle of wine might be more appropriate.

Calgary Stampede

As the “Texas of Canada”, Alberta has its fair share of boot-shod wranglers, cow-totin’ country belles, and stinkin’ rich oil men. It’s no wonder, then, that the province’s largest city, Calgary, plays host every year to the Calgary Stampede. Don’t worry, the chances of getting trampled at this stampede are slim, but there is always a chance that some of the rodeo’s more irate animals will break free.

Image: drjimsthinkingshop.com

As our resident expert on all things country and Canadian points out, this is an authentic western experience not to be confused with some other events that only claim to be the real deal. Be prepared to don some western wear if you want to get in on the best parties (and free pancakes), and don’t miss out on the accompanying testicle festival. It may not be the most dangerous festival in the world, but down enough Caesars and hop on the mechanical bull, and you’ll definitely be in for a bumpy ride.

Running of the Bulls

To call the Running of the Bulls a cultural event might be an understatement: the “encierro,” as it’s called by the locals, is a national icon and an internationally-infamous festival. Of course, it’s just one part of the Festival of San Fermín, and there’s plenty more to the event to get excited about. The biggest day is July 7th, when thousands of people accompany a statue of the co-patron saint of Navarra through the streets of old Pamplona.

Image: nummynims.wordpress.com

If you want to participate in the encierro, it starts at 8:00 in the morning with the lighting of a firecracker to signal the release of six bulls and six steers. The whole race lasts all of about three minutes, and is highly dangerous. On average, somebody is trampled or gored to death once every couple of years.

Thimithi (Theemidhi) Festival

This Hindu fire-walking ceremony is held in honour of the goddess Draupadi, heroine of the epic poem Mahabharata, in various locations around the world, wherever there’s a sizable South Indian population. Singapore’s incarnation of the ceremony takes place at the Sri Mariamman Temple, where barefoot Hindu devotees walk across a pit of red-hot embers with no signs of injury to their bare feet.

Image: awesomestories.com

The event is considered a test of the devotees’ purity: if they can make it across the 7-meter-long pit of smoldering embers without being burned, they are pure; if not, they are considered impure. After making the treacherous crossing, participants cool their feet by walking through a pit of goat’s milk. If you’d like to participate in the proceedings, remember that you must be dressed appropriately for the temple, and must remove your shoes before entering. Then, the fire walk is all up to you!

Burning Man

Not for the feeble-hearted, Burning Man attracts more than 30,000 revelers to the sizzling Black Rock Desert in western Nevada, one of the flattest surfaces on the planet, for a week of music, partying, arts and crafts, and biking across the arid expanses. Needless to say, the festival brings its fair share of alternative members of the community, fully equipped with enough booze and other substances to make the goings on all the more intense – and dangerous.

Image: channels.com

If you’re willing to brave the heat, dehydration, and dust to set up camp, you’ll still have to contend with raucous (and often nude) party people. On the sixth night, the effigy of a large wooden man is burned, giving the festival its name. Money is frowned upon in transactions between different camps, and a bartering system is in place. Injuries, arrests, and fatalities happen every year.

El Salto del Colacho

Another one on our list of torturous events for babies, El Colacho is a traditional Spanish practice dating back to 1620 that commemorates the Catholic feast of Corpus Christi. Local men dressed as the Devil perform a ceremony where they jump over babies born in the previous twelve months, who recline on mattresses laid out on the street.

Image: cellar.org

Although the origins of the tradition are unknown, it is said to cleanse the babies of the original sin, to ensure them of safety and health throughout their lives, and to guard against evil spirits – if they survive the jump, that is. The Pope has asked priests in Spain to distance themselves from the El Colacho festival. We can’t imagine why.

Know of any more dangerous festivals? We’d love to hear about them! Add your comments below, or use our spiffy new Events Map to spread the word.

Tags: Burning Man, Calgary Stampede, dangerous, deadly, events, festivals, gloucester cheese rolling, goat tossing, hogueras de san juan, kishiwada danjiri, nejapa, onbashira, risky, running of the bulls, salto del colacho, solapur baby dropping, theemidhi, thimithi

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