Phuket’s Vegetarian Festival
A photographic tour
Phuket’s Vegetarian Festival – starting at the end of this week – perhaps ranks among the strangest in the world. Held over nine days in October, the spectacular Taoist celebration centres around the Chinese community’s belief that abstinence from meat and stimulants during the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar will help them obtain a healthy body and mind (35% of Phuket’s population are Chinese).
The part of the festival that attracts most notoriety is a ritual where religious devotees perform mutilations while in a trance-like state, including piercing their faces and other parts of their bodies with metal objects.
The people who take part in the ritual, called mah song, take part in a procession along the streets often wearing elaborate costumes.
The piercing is usually done by physicians from the community, without any anaesthetic, outside the temples.
Participants have been known to pierce their cheeks and tongues with all manner of things, including swords, banners, machine guns, table lamps, and flowers.
Teams of people accompany the mah song to keep their wounds clean and to support the heavier piercings. It is believed that while they are in a trance-like, ‘possessed’ state, they will not feel any pain.
Even the young sometimes take part in the piercing ritual. The Chinese gods are said to protect the devotees and little blood or scarring seems to result from the mutilation, even though the participants will be seen around the city wearing bandages after the ceremony.
Other incredible physical feats in the festival include walking on hot coals or metal spikes and climbing ladders made from knife blades.
Revellers let of thousands of fire crackers during the street procession.