Phuket Vegetarian Festival: Self-Mutilation and Firecrackers

On a small island of Thailand exists a festival that can only be described as mind-blowing. The name is the Vegetarian Festival of Phuket where the locals conduct a ceremony to cleanse themselves.  The festival lasts for nine days and the locals abstain from sex, alcohol and meat throughout the entire thing.  During that time a ceremony is conducted where some of the participants invoke the ‘Nine Emperor’ gods within themselves.  In order to prove they are acting as mediums for these gods they perform acts of mutilation upon themselves without showing signs of pain.  They walk across exploding firecrackers and pierce parts of their body with large knives, skewers and other household items all the while appearing to be completely possessed.  Without any prior knowledge of this wild spectacle and during my very first week in Asia, I found myself amongst the locals staring through clouds of smoke from the firecrackers bursting all around me.  Overloaded by feelings of wonder, confusion, and discomfort I squeezed through the crowds of exotic people, attempting to photograph some of the madness.  The experience was surreal to a level I had never felt before and although photos are never a substitute for the real thing I present to you the Phuket Vegetarian Festival in one sentence per picture style. (***WARNING*** These photos are not for the squeamish or feint of heart!!)

Wearing mostly white, carrying spirit houses over streets of firecrackers.

Invoked by gods making them invincible to pain.

And causing them to bear no scars from these self-inflicted wounds.

No matter what your belief system, this behavior makes you wonder.

Could it be true?

Would people do this if they didn’t truly believe in it?

It’s impossible to ever really know.

But what does it matter anyway, it’s an incredible thing to see!

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