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).

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©Bjorn Svensson

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.

 Procession of the Vegetarian Festival, Phuket, Thailand, Southeast Asia, Aisa
©Luca Tettoni

The people who take part in the ritual, called mah song, take part in a procession along the streets often wearing elaborate costumes.

Sceens of Phuket's Vegetarian festival

©Boaz Rottem

The piercing is usually done by physicians from the community, without any anaesthetic, outside the temples.

Bizarre Vegetarian Festival, Phuket, Thailand

©Dave Stamboulis

Participants have been known to pierce their cheeks and tongues with all manner of things, including swords, banners, machine guns, table lamps, and flowers.

Sceens of Phuket's Vegetarian festival

©Boaz Rottem

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.

mae song in a trance with multiple piercings , chinese vegetarian festival , phuket , thailand

©Paul Picasso

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.

Knife in boys mouth at the bizarre Vegetarian Festival, Phuket, Thailand

©Dave Stamboulis

Other incredible physical feats in the festival include walking on hot coals or metal spikes and climbing ladders made from knife blades.

Sceens of Phuket's Vegetarian festival

©Boaz Rottem

Revellers let of thousands of fire crackers during the street procession.

firework madness, devotees come under fire during a temple run, firework madness, phuket vegetarian festival, phuket, thailand

©Paul Picasso

See more images from the Vegetarian Festival in Phuket and other parts of Thailand

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