The body piercing ceremonies of the Phuket Vegetarian festival provide some of the most spectacular – and gruesome – spectacles within Thai culture
From Phuket.com: “A colourful event held over a nine day period in late September/early October, this celebrates the Chinese community’s belief that abstinence from meat and various stimulants during the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar will help them obtain good health and peace of mind.
One of the most exciting aspects of the festival is the various, (and sometimes gruesome) ceremonies which are held to invoke the gods. Firewalking, body piercing and other acts of self mortification undertaken by participants acting as mediums of the gods, have become more spectacular and daring as each year goes by. Men and women puncture their cheeks with various items including knives, skewers and other household items. It is believed that the Chinese gods will protect such persons from harm, and little blood or scarring results from such mutilation acts. This is definitely not recommended for the feint hearted to witness.”
After hearing about this festival for two years running, I finally got there this year – and it was one of the most bizarre and fascinating ceremonies I’ve witnessed. It’s quite hard to track down info about where each of the ceremonies are taking place on each day, but after asking around a bit we finally tracked down a big parade on a closed off stretch of road. It was a real family affair, with little kids and grannies all milling around on the roadside, watching the devotees parade through the road, all resplendent in beautiful silks and many sporting skewers, swords and even tree branches pushed through their cheeks and into their mouths. It sounds horrific but the ceremonial aspect of the celebrations means that it’s very ritualised and controlled and orderly. Each devotee that’s undertaken an act of self mortification has an entourage that look after them. We spent around an hour watching the parade and the locals were happy to let us take photos when we asked politely. For all the sense that Phuket has largely become Westernised, the Vegetarian Festival is a big fat reminder of Thai/Chinese culture – so much so that some businesses on the island are trying to get it banned because they claim it’s not good for Phuket’s image. Like Phuket needs to be any more bland.
Lindy took a whole series of great pictures, as you can see above. For more info about the origins of the festival and more photos, check out phuketvegetarian.com, Phuket Travelers Net and the Phuket.com link above.