Friday, 7 October 2016
The vegetarian festival on Phuket 2016
Today I went to Phuket town and checked out a procession that is part of the vegetarian festival on Phuket 2016.
Previously I had seen similar processions in Hat Yai, way back, in early 2000 and in 2012 during Chinese New Year in Nathon. What I witnessed today though, made the two previous events pale in comparison. The extent and size of the vegetarian festival on Phuket 2016 was stunning!
The vegetarian festival on Phuket 2016: Holy statues of the various Chinese temples being carried around
Participants and visitors dress in white, so yesterday evening I went to buy a pair of white pants, so I was accepted more easily and didn't stand out in the crowd, something I knew would help when taking pictures.
When we arrived this morning in Phuket town the parking situation wasn't half as bad as expected and we found a spot on Bangkok Road, near a big roundabout and immediately next to the action. After a short walk we found the procession and full mayhem broke loose. Thousands of fire crackers where set off left. right, in the middle and behind you. Smoke was everywhere and it was noisy like there was no tomorrow.
This part of the procession big groups of mainly youths were carrying statues that the rest of the year are probably standing in the various Chinese temples around Phuket town. A nice welcome to the procession, we couldn't have asked anymore 'in your face' action or start.
The vegetarian festival on Phuket 2016; Blessings were being asked for and given by elderly people who were sitting in cars and pick up trucks
When the statue carriers and noisy part of the procession moved past us, it was followed by a procession of cars and pick up trucks and the like. This time mostly elderly people were sitting on the vehicles and passing out candies and sweets or religious artifacts, like cotton wrist bands, small banners, small packs with various combinations of the before mentioned and if you were really lucky you could pick up some Buddhist amulets. From the latter I managed to get two.
The vegetarian festival on Phuket 2016; Piercing
We had a short break and two people in our party of five had some breakfast and me and the other two went on to the next corner to see another part of the procession. The procession was so long, that if you were standing in one street, and could see other streets, you could see parts of the procession snaking through one or more other streets. It was a very long procession!
The vegetarian festival on Phuket 2016; Carrying a wooden boat, attached to piercings
The part of the procession that we walked into at this stage is what made this festival so famous, the piercings. People go into a trance and pierce their cheeks with all kind of different things and objects. The pictures here show you just a small fraction of what can be seen. Hundreds of other men and women have short iron needles pierced through their cheeks, sometimes 'just' one, two or more and varying in length and size.
The vegetarian festival on Phuket 2016; Heavy piercing with iron parts
You can find really bizarre and weird items being used to pierce cheeks with, like the picture above, where two big steel or iron round ornaments are being used to pierce this persons cheeks. Keep in mind though that the piercing starts around 6am, when participants start to get into a trance and once a certain state of trance has been reached, the piercing can be done. during the procession we saw dozens if not hundreds of people in trance walking around, with and without piercings. Sometimes participants carry big knives or axes and keep cutting themselves repeatedly in their tongue or other body parts.
The vegetarian festival on Phuket 2016; Two swords
The visitors or the audience can receive the blessings of the gods possessing the spirit mediums or Ma Song. The Ma Song in turn, those who will allow spirits to possess them, mortal mediums or the participants are famous for their gruesome displays of flagellating their flesh with axes or maces and inserting a variety of artifacts, such as knives, skewers and even guns through cuts in their cheeks or hanging them by hooks from the chests or backs. Ma Song claim to feel no pain during these acts and say that the gods that inhabit their bodies protect them from harm.
The vegetarian festival on Phuket 2016; This piercing was so heavy and so wide that another four or five people needed to help carrying it. It was made out of bicycle chain rings, welded together, possibly two meters wide and it looked very heavy!
The Ma Song above had in my book the most impressive piercing done, in size and weight. I assume what are friends make sure that when they walk, nobody bumps into the Ma Song's, so their piercings get messed up. The close followers also clean the saliva and blood from the Ma Song's faces and mouths.
The piercings are than carried around for several hours during the procession. Very impressive indeed!
Good back ground information on the origins of the festival can be found in this Phuket News article.
The vegetarian festival on Phuket 2016; Part of the procession and the crowd, it was very busy and people seemed to have come from all over, not just Phuket or Thailand
If on Phuket during any vegetarian festival also known as the “Nine Emperor Gods Festival”, make sure to visit Phuket Town and one of the processions that the 24 Chinese shrines that participate in the festival organize during the nine day period of the festival, and begins always on the the last day of the eighth lunar month of the Chinese calendar. This year that was 30th September and it will last until Sunday 9th October with one more really big procession in the late afternoon and evening in Phuket Town. Go and check it out, it's more than just impressive.
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