Currently reading : The Phuket Vegetarian Festival
Tomorrow in the Thai island of Phuket the Chinese community who make up a third of the population of the island will start their nine day celebration to show abstince from meat, alcohol, sex and other stimulants to help them obtain good health and peace of mind during the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar.
The origins of this festival are unclear but it is thought that it began after a group of Chinese opera singers visiting Phuket fell ill during the late 19th century with malaria. To cure themselves of the deadly illness they went on a strict vegetarian diet and prayed to the Nine Emperor Gods to ensure purification of the mind and body. Suprisingly everyone survived which was very unusual of the time, to celebrate this and honour the gods the festival supposedly started.
However the festival may celebrate the controlled diet that many ensure but it is better known for the extreme body modifications that take place every year. Thousands of visitors from all over Asia come to see the ceremonies which have been becoming more grumesome and extreme year by year.
Fire walking, climbing ladders made of blades, submerging the body in baths of hot oil and most famously; body and facial piercing publicly happen by men and women who use aggressive objects to do so. They hope that their suffering will draw evil out of the community around them and, in doing so, brings positive luck to their friends and village. Celebrants first attain a trance-like state before the self mutilation believing it will give them supernatural powers and the ability to endure these excruciating tortures for the common good.
The use of domestic objects to perforate the cheeks and split the tongue is hazily understood but seems to be a way of exaggerating the notion of competition; who can fit the most painful object through the face? Who is the most dedicated? Images of car wheels, mechanical tools, guns and collections of knives all rip open the faces of these devotees of which many have to go onto have facial reconstruction.
The festival starts tomorrow and finishes on the 14th of October. You can find out more about it here.