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This is not for the faint-hearted. Phuket tourism is usually associated with clear sandy beaches and a happening nightlife, not so much for boy piercing and other acts of self mortification. Welcome to Phuket’s annual Vegetarian Festival where people pierce their cheeks with knives, skewers and all manner of sharp objects to invoke the Gods. It is believed that the Chinese gods will protect such persons from harm, and little blood or scarring results from such mutilation acts.

All ceremonies of the festival take place in the vicinity of the six Chinese temples scattered throughout Phuket. The main temple is Jui Tui Shrine not far from the Fresh Market in Phuket Town. The festivities start with the raising of the Lantern Pole, notifying the Gods that the festival is about to begin. The pole is at least ten metres tall and once erected, it is believed that the Hindu God Shiva descends bringing spiritual power to the event. Street procession take place with people walking in a trance, people run across burning coals and climb an eight metre ladder of sharp knives. Eating out in Phuket is usually a very meaty affair but not during this time. Soybean and protein substitutes are used to replace meat, although they do taste uncannily like meat.

How it all started?

Round about one hundred and fifty years ago, the Kathu district of Phuket was home to a large Chinese community. These were mostly workers from neighbouring tin mines who had settled here and formed the majority. They were such a large group and the community decided to hire a group of opera performers all the way from China, simply for entertainment for their families. Sometime around then, during the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar, Phuket was hit by an epidemic of a fatal disease that claimed many lives. It was later suggested that the disease was probably malaria and came from the performers of the wandering Chinese opera.

At that time, the people came to the conclusion that the Emperor Gods (Kiu Ong Iah) had unleashed their wrath because they had forgotten to pay homage to the Nine Emperor Gods in the first nine days of the month. And so one of the performers was sent to China to invite the Kiu Ong Iah to Phuket. They refrained from eating meat, drinking alcoholic drinks, engaging in sex, quarreling, telling lies or killing. Miraculously, the epidemic ceased and the people of Phuket have been celebrating these nine days every year since.

It has become progressively more gruesome with each passing year. So think twice before putting it on your list of things to do in Phuket.

As the newest member of the content team, Shivangi Rajendran comes from the world of professional dancing. With a passion for travel and a flair for writing, the Masters in Mass Communication is just an added advantage. A gypsy at heart, she doesn’t believe in planning and is always ready to pack her bags and leave.

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