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Watch Fat Mangos tribute to the most in-your-face festival on Phuket’s Annual Calendar. The annual Vegetarian Festival is celebrated throughout the Thailand, but the festivities are at their peak in Phuket, where about 35% of the population is Thai Chinese heritage. It attracts crowds of spectators because of many of the unusual religious rituals that are performed. Unusual and in your face! Literally.

Here’s some info about the Vegetarian Festival which, this year, will be celebrated from October 20 – 28 although organisers have been official asked to ‘tone down’ the activities this year due to the Royal Cremation and Funeral for the Late King Bhumibol in Bangkok at the end of this month.

This from Wikipedia….

In accordance with the traditions, many religious devotees will perform ritualised mutilation on themselves and one another while under a trance-like state. Some of the ‘mutilation you could expect to witness could include impaling through cheeks, arms, face, legs or back. With everything from as small as syringes to as large as swords, spears and even petrol pumps (yep, we’ve seen that), slashing of limbs, chest, stomach and especially tongue with swords, axes and knives; bloodletting; removal of tissue (normally limited to cysts) and intentionally wrapping or standing near fire crackers as they are lit.

This is all done without anaesthetic, always inside or near the temples surrounded by other devotees with only iodine, petroleum jelly and surgical gloves as precautionary measures. Despite this scenario, many of the same people performing the rituals are also the people who will care for many of the people in their recovery. The actual impaling is done by doctors and physicians in the community, is planned out for weeks if not months in advance and medical teams are present in and around temple grounds for the entire time of the festival, with spectators frequently needing more help than the devotees, who remain in a trance during this process and are monitored through the entire event in case they should drop out of concentration, in which case they are immediately taken to medical professionals regardless of the circumstances to minimise post trance bleeding.

To this effect few people ever need to have prolonged medical treatment, and although in the weeks after the festival many people will be seen covered in bandages, scarring is uncommon, stitching, even on individual devotees who impale their cheeks, is rare, and return to daily activity for the devotees occurs shortly after the completion of the ritual, frequently before the festival ends unless performed on the last days, much sooner than before the bandages themselves are removed.

The purpose of this practice is a mixture of veneration for their gods and ancestors, to display their devotion to their beliefs and the trance itself, which although anecdotal in nature to what is experienced, has a profound impact upon demeanour for days or weeks after, frequently with devotees appearing exceptionally calm and focused in their day-to-day activities after the festival is completed.

Now you know.

- Phuket Gazette & The Nation