Phuket Vegetarian Festival pictures
Even though you know what to expect, and even though you read about the whole thing before, nothing can prepare you for seeing the Phuket Vegetarian Festival with my own eyes.
It doesn’t matter if you think it’s real or not; when you’re there in the thick of the action, the Phuket Vegetarian is as real as any movie you’ve ever watched or any book you’ve ever read.
On Saturday night in 2007, we went to Jui Tui Shrine in Town for a birth-death god ceremony. The road was closed off and people will be milling about among the food stalls when the maa song (entranced horses) arrived. These were the people who become possessed by the gods during the Vegetarian Festival.
The maa song, both men and women, marched to the shrine with their entourage of white-clad followers. They were shaking their heads, some prancing, others dancing. Every now and then a piercing cackle would come from one of the possessed, and when they spoke, it was in a high-pitched voice.
Some of the women had babies’ dummies in their mouths or carried babies’ bottles (birth gods), while other gave candies to people as a form of blessing. The whole thing was totally surreal. The maa song made their way to the shrine and the gods exited their bodies.
Although this was all a bit strange, it was what we saw Sunday at Samkong Shrine that really weirded us out. The Phuket Vegetarian Festival is famed for the self-torturous acts the maa song perform while the gods watch over and protect them. The maa song are said to feel no pain and they perform these acts of self-harm to remove bad luck from the community. It gets gory from this point.
The maa song pierce their cheeks and faces with all manner of objects. We saw poles, wrenches, a steering wheel, blades, swords and vegetables piercing the cheeks of these guys. We don’t want to speculate about what this festival is because seeing these acts was extraordinary. The people involved don’t f-ck around.
The din of firecrackers and the smoke and pungent smell they produced added to the atmosphere.
What interested us most were the trance-like states these guys seem to be able to induce. From what we can tell, it’s a kind of self-hypnosis that allows them to perform these brutal acts without so much as flinching.
At one point, a group of men stood around in a circle and hit their own backs with axes and swords. You could see the wounds these blows made. The maa song paraded from Samkong Shrine to Phuket Town. That’s a long, long walk. We were riding through town about an hour later and we could still see maa song on their bare-foot journey.
The street processions through Phuket Town on Wednesday and Thursday are totally off the wall, with more than 1,000 maa song, including women.
One slightly sour point of the festival are the numerous promotional booths that brands like AIS and Nokia have set up at shrines. On Saturday, less than five minutes about the birth-death god ceremony, there was girls on mics promoting AIS at full volume.