Phuket Vegetarian Festival 2013: Where Self-Mutilation Brings Virtue

 @MarkJohansonIBT
on October 14 2013 5:44 AM
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A typical vegetarian festival might entail stalls with fake meats such as “chick’n” or “tofurkey,” organic and locally grown grub, and speakers from animal-rights organizations like PETA or the Humane Society.

 

Thailand’s annual Phuket Vegetarian Festival, however, isn't your typical veggie fest. Instead of touting the benefits of a “cruelty-free lifestyle,” cruelty is very much on display in the form of face-piercing, fire-walking and spirit-evoking acts of self-mutilation.

 

The 2013 Phuket Vegetarian Festival began on Oct. 5 and wrapped up over the weekend with one final parade. The nine-day event celebrated the belief that abstinence from meat and stimulants during the ninth month of the Asian lunar calendar will bring about good health and peace of mind.

 

As legend goes, a wandering Chinese opera troupe came down with malaria while performing on the popular tourist island some 521 miles (840 kilometers) south of Bangkok, but after maintaining a strict vegetarian diet and performing deeds to 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 the act.

 

Over the past decade, tens of thousands of visitors have arrived in Phuket to watch the white-clad devotees, largely from the Thai-Chinese community, gather on the island for acts of unimaginable pain. Celebrants first attain a trance-like state that is believed to give them supernatural powers, in order to endure a prescribed torture for the common good of the community. Some skewer their cheeks with spears, guns or umbrellas, while others walk atop burning coals, take baths in hot oil or climb ladders adorned with bladed rungs.

 

If it sounds a bit dangerous, that’s because it is. Dozens of people are seriously injured each year, but that doesn’t stop the crowds from pouring in for a glimpse of the world’s goriest gathering.

 

The Tourism Authority of Thailand believes the purification festival attracted some 100,000 people this year, though half of the visitors were likely Thais from neighboring provinces. Another 40 percent came from other Asian nations such as China, while the remaining 10 percent came from further afield to witness these grisly public performances of piety.

 

Warning: Graphic Photos

Phuket Vegetarian Festival 2013

A devotee of the Chinese Bang Neow Shrine gets another blade pierced through his cheek before the beginning of a street procession during the annual vegetarian festival in Phuket, Oct. 10, 2013. Reuters

Phuket Veggie Festival 2013

Devotees of the Chinese Jui Tui Shrine work themselves into a trance before a street procession during the annual vegetarian festival in Phuket, Oct. 11, 2013. Reuters

Phuket Self Mutilation

A devotee of the Chinese Jui Tui Shrine, with flags pierced through his cheeks, takes part in a street procession during the annual vegetarian festival in Phuket, Oct. 11, 2013. Reuters

Vegetarian Festival Phuket

A devotee of "Chao Pho Kuan U Shrine" runs on burning charcoal as he performs a fire-walking ceremony during celebrations for the vegetarian festival in Phang Nga, Oct. 11, 2013. Reuters

Phuket Vegetarian Festival 2013

A devotee of the Chinese Jui Tui Shrine has a toy racing car and an apple on spike pierced through his cheeks during a street procession during the annual vegetarian festival in Phuket, Oct. 11, 2013. Reuters

Thailand Vegetarian Festival Photos

Devotees of the Chinese Kathu Shrine with spikes pierced through their bodies get ready for a street procession during the annual vegetarian festival in Phuket, Oct. 12, 2013. Reuters

Phuket Vegetarian Festival 2013

Devotees of the Chinese Jui Tui Shrine carry a religious statue through exploding firecrackers during a street procession at the annual vegetarian festival in Phuket, Oct. 11, 2013. Reuters

Phuket Vegetarian Festival Photos

A devotee of the Chinese Kathu Shrine is assisted as a spike is pierced through his skin before a street procession during the annual vegetarian festival in Phuket, Oct. 12, 2013. Reuters

Phuket Vegetarian Festival

A devotee of the Chinese Kathu Shrine with a big umbrella pierced through his cheek takes part in a street procession during the annual vegetarian festival in Phuket October 12, 2013. Reuters

Phuket Vegetarian Festival 2013 Photos

A devotee of the Chinese Jui Tui Shrine, with two guns pierced through his cheeks, takes part in a street procession during the annual vegetarian festival in Phuket, Oct. 11, 2013. Reuters