|Parade from Chinese Temple through Phuket Town|
The festival is also celebrated in Bangkok and Chang Mai, but Phuket is the "Hot Spot" for some of the weirdest of the weird. Many of the main streets in Phuket town are closed off, as vendors put up food booths offering a variety of vegetarian dishes. The people dress all in white and for 30 days abstain from meat, alcohol, sex, drugs, rock and roll and anything else that's fun. As the story goes; 150 years ago, a wandering Chinese opera troupe came down with malaria while performing on the island, but after maintaining a strict vegetarian diet and performing deeds to the two emperor gods, the company made a full recovery. Inspired by the miracle, thousands have gathered in Phuket for more than 150 years to repeat these acts.
Now for the weird part; Over the years the festival has taken on a frenzied manifestation of self mutilation. The pictures below are not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach. I lost my appetite immediately.The devotes pierce their faces with everything from tire rims to guns! The photo's were taken from the internet because getting into the crowd was difficult. U TUBE has some great footage of the event. The streets were packed with people shaking their heads in a trance, so we decided to stay out of the trance zone at the pierce parade!
A devotee of the Chinese Bang Neow Shrine with guns through his cheeks waits for beginning of a street procession. The festival, featuring face-piercing, spirit mediums, and strict vegetarianism celebrates the local 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.
It might seem like an odd mix to the outside observer but piercing and ritual vegetarianism on Thailand’s Phuket Island have roots going back to the early 1800’s. The festival begins on the first evening of the ninth lunar month and lasts for nine days.Participants in the festival perform acts of body piercing as a means of shifting evil spirits from individuals onto themselves to bring the community good luck. The folks who pierce themselves are life long participants, having been chosen by the god in the temple. Most of the pierced are men but a few women are also chosen. These people are considered shaman in their villages and the people go to them for magic spells, potions, and advise.
Any vegetarian festivals in the West, would have vendors hawking fake meats with cute names like chick’n or tofurkey, a guitarist plucks away in the background and a lineup of speakers tout the benefits of a cruelty-free lifestyle. In Phuket, Thailand, however, a veggie fest looks entirely different: It’s an occasion for face-piercing, fire-walking and spirit-evoking. Hell yeah!
Celebrants first attain a trance-like state which they believe gives them supernatural powers to endure torture for the common good of the community around them. Many then climb ladders with bladed rungs, take baths in hot oil, walk atop burning coals or pierce their cheeks with any number of objects in myriad acts of devotion. When I lived in Sri Lanka there was a ceremony in the forest where a man pierced his back and legs with large sharp hooks and was then strung up to the Boa Tree (Buddha attained enlightenment under such a tree) He then walked on hot coals, as did many of the villagers. I have often wondered why the man did it. Maybe he was a shaman, taking the evil from his village and bringing them good luck. It's a Buddhist devotional thing mixed up with the Chinese benefits to vegetarianism! The world is filled with strange things indeed.
It seems like over the years the people who pierce themselves are in competition to see who can put the most outrageous item through their face. I found it all rather horrifying. The food was not really all that great either with most of the vegetables being fried in coconut oil.
If it sounds dangerous, that’s because it is. Last year, some 74 people were seriously hurt and at least one person died because of injuries sustained at the event. Westerners rarely attend the festivities for obvious reasons.