Serendipity once again struck me in my travels, as I have arrived in Thailand during one of the most unique, and to some, discomforting festivals in the world. The Phuket Vegetarian Festival. This festival takes it’s roots from Chinese history and mythology, but is unique to Thailand, and experiences it’s zenith in Phuket, where it took it’s current form in the early 1800’s.
Although conflicting accounts as to it’s origin exist, most agree it was the result of political maneuvering in Phuket in 1825. During this time the capitol of Phuket was located in Thalang district, but the current governor of Thalang district decreed that the capitol was to be relocated to Kathu District. The main reason for this was the abundance of Chinese tin mines and a resulting nascent economy. Although Kathu was still covered in dense forest at the time, the governor foresaw great things for the area.
During this period a travelling Chinese Opera traveled to Kathu to entertain the tin miners. At or around this time a terrible epidemic of fever and death was overtaking the mining community. The Opera singers however, never fell ill. The miners, desperate for a cure sought advice from the traveling performers, who informed the miners of their strict adherence to a vegetarian diet. The miners proceeded to strictly adhere to this diet, as well as abstain from alcohol, sex and killing of animals for food (doesn’t sound like too much fun). The epidemic quickly vanished, and was cause for great celebration. Thus occurred the birth of the Phuket Vegetarian Festival. The locals, so thrilled with their newfound health sent an envoy to Kansai, in China. The envoy returned with holy incense and inscribed tablets. Two objects that still feature heavily in the modern day processions.
While the modern incarnation of the festival still retains many of the original practices, the most famous (read infamous) spectacle, is the invocation of the god Lam Tao. Those who channel the deity are bestowed great abilities to withstand personal pain and mutilation. They use this power to inflict very grievous bodily harm upon to themselves, which they shoulder in order to lessen the suffering of those around them. These displays are not for the weak of heart, and cause some people to be repulsed and even physically ill.
Below you will find some photos that may disturb you, you have been warned.