Who's game? Phuket's Vegetarian Festival

Ever seen a picture of Phuket’s yearly Vegetarian Festival? If you have, you would definitely remember– daggers piercing cheeks, razorblades cutting tongues – the makings of a child’s nightmare.

Basically, the festival celebrates the beginning of the month of ‘Taoist Lent’, when devout Chinese abstain from eating all meat and meat products. In Phuket Town, the festival activities are centred on five Chinese temples, with the Jui Tui temple on Th Ranong the most important. After the abstention from meat eating, the Vegetarian Festival involves various processions culminating in incredible acts of self-mortification – walking on hot coals, piercing the skin with sharp objects and so on. Shop owners along Phuket Town’s central streets set up altars in front of their shopfronts offering nine tiny cups of tea, incense, fruit, candles and flowers to the nine emperor gods invoked by the festival. Those participating as mediums bring the nine deities to earth for the festival by entering into a trance state and piercing their cheeks with a variety of objects – tree branches, spears, slide trombones and so forth. Some even hack their tongues with saw or axe blades…

During the street processions, these mediums stop at the shopfront altars, where they pick up the offered fruit and either add it to the objects piercing their cheeks or pass it on to bystanders as a blessing. They also drink one of the nine cups of tea and grab some flowers to stuff in their waist belts.

The entire atmosphere is one of religious frenzy, with deafening firecrackers, ritual dancing and bloody T-shirts. Oddly enough, there is no record of this kind of activity associated with Taoist Lent in China

This year’s festival will be held 18-26 Oct.