Processions at the Phuket Vegetarian Festival

   An Amazing Festival...

Phuket is not only known for its beautiful beaches and warm nights on Bangla Road, but also for its amazing Vegetarian Festival, which takes place every year according to the Chinese lunar calendar.

Many young and old are taking part in this event and marching through the streets of the city in a deafening noise: a mixture of folk music and firecrackers, all with a very strong Chinese influence.

Every year, therefore, this Festival takes place on the island of Phuket and the participation is always very important but also taken very seriously.

Tourists come in large numbers to bathe in this very special atmosphere. 

For photo lovers, it is certain that the possibilities are enormous as long as they are not afraid to mix and brave the explosion of firecrackers, smoke, crowds....

The Vegetarian Festival is not only in Phuket. Other cities also organize it, for example:
Bangkok (Yaowarat Road), Samut Sakhon, Chon Buri, Nakhon Ratchasima (Korat), Chumphon, Hat Yai (Tong Sia Siang Tueng Park), Krabi, Trang and Phang Nga.
It is in Phuket that this tradition was born, and it is also in Phuket that the processions are the most spectacular. Every day, various ceremonies take place in Chinese shrines. Participants dressed entirely in white carry colourful statues and explode firecrackers in the procession. They surround the "Mah Song", the mediums responsible for conjuring evil spells and communicating with the spirits. 
These mediums practice many very impressive public self-mutilations, symbolically taking over the suffering of the people.

Preparation of the Jui Tui pole

Every year... a grand opening ceremony is held in all the Chinese shrines in the city and surrounding areas.
Here we are at the Jui Tui shrine in Phuket-Town... this ceremony starts in the morning and ends in the late afternoon and gathers an impressive number of local and foreign participants and spectators. This ceremony takes place on the same day in all the temples concerned in Phuket City.
In the morning, before this great ceremony, the mast is placed horizontally and people come to place small gold leaves on it and add a small prayer.

Pole rising ritual

This ritual takes place at each participating shrine in the afternoon and evening of the day preceding the nine days of the festival. The tall lantern poles have nine oil lanterns to symbolize the Nine-Emperor Gods. The lanterns will stay hanging for the duration of the festival.

Nine Emperor Gods invitation ritual
It is said that at midnight on the first day of the festival the Nine Emperor Gods descend down the poles, this marks the start of proceedings. Their spirits enter incense urns which are placed in a secluded back room of the shrine throughout the festival. Only the censer master and his assistant are allowed to enter the room.

Pole ceremony in Kathu

Here also, in Kathu, people are preparing their ceremony... more local (compared to Jui Tui) I am almost the only "foreigner" on the spot but that does not pose the least problem. 
The mast in Kathu is not covered with gold leaf as in Jui Tui, so it seems that each shrine has its own habits.
Even the local TV was on the spot in Kathu for some interviews or a "live" broadcast to report the event...
In Kathu, the atmosphere is a little more "local" we would say... more intimate could we say that a lot of people still
The raising of the mast is the strongest moment and the one awaited by all the visitors.

Jui Tui / Phuket Town

At the same time, in Jui Tui (Phuket), the ceremony is in full swing... the courtyard is full, you can't move around any more.

 Spectators of the Processions

During the processions that always take place in the early morning (around 7 am) the public along the streets is always very numerous. Public composed of locals or tourists, it doesn't matter... it's the Thai people who are by far the most numerous...
In some places, tables are set up to make offerings.

 Careful, that stings!

Well, so far, it's been cute.... a lot of people, a lot of noise...
Nothing particularly exceptional, rather banal although very typical in fact.
However, from now on......

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If there is one attraction in Phuket that can surprise many people,
it is indeed the daily processions of the Sino-Thai (mediums) in trance in the streets of the city.

Surprising, surprising, almost disgusting to some, frightening to others, this ancient practice takes place every year and only in Phuket.

Hats off to these "mediums" and their entourage who are overflowing with imagination every year to find such surprising objects to pierce the cheeks through and through....

From the simple steel bar, to the flower basket, to the sword, the wrought iron, the big bicycle lock... and even a snake etc...

What an imagination!

The Morning Piercings...

This long conical spike is only used to pierce the cheek... it's not only boys who get "pierced"...
In the early morning, around 6:00 a.m., the mediums get pierced in front of the audience... 

  Ow ow ow ow.....

The most impressive moment in a procession is the perforation, whether in the cheek, ear or tongue...

The utensil used to perforate the skin is a very sharp and thin cone like a needle at first, then the diameter of the cone becomes larger in order to create a hole for the placement of an object that had to be chosen at length by the person concerned and his family. Of these "tools", there are different dimensions. 

It is an important moment for the "medium" and impressive for the spectator.

The question regularly asked: do these people suffer during these piercings which are done without local anaesthesia... are they under the influence of drugs? I never really got to know it and it remains difficult to know it.

I know that they are in a "trance" a kind of second level... they are no longer themselves, however when we watch the video that is part of this file, at the end of the film, we can observe a participant moaning in pain as he extracts his objects... 

It still takes a lot of masochism to do that.

The Daily Processions

Each temple in Phuket has its procession on a specific day and defined according to a well-established program in advance. This program can be consulted on the internet.
These processions have their origin at the organizing temple, then cross the streets of the city in a rather impressive noise and an incredible crowd, to often join the Saphan Hin district which is most of the time, the final point of the procession.
These processions are of course impressive, but for a photo lover, it is an exciting moment, rich in colours, ideas and sensations.
The access is very easy to photograph, no barriers, no limits except that of courtesy and respect for others... everything happens despite the noise and the crowd, in a clear and calm spirit. Nothing could be easier.
The following pictures are of the procession organized by the Naka temple in Phuket.
The colours, the joy of the people, the alert pace would almost make you think of a carnival parade... that's to say the friendly atmosphere that reigns in the streets of Phuket during these processions...
Probably a tailor or... a hairdresser?
In some places of the procession, there are large explosions of firecrackers, very violent, very powerful, very impressive. It starts like that all of a sudden, we don't really know why... after a few minutes of this big madness, the procession continues.  
We can clearly see in these images, the violence and danger of this intense moment
The whole procession arrives quietly at Saphan Hin... the participants are hot and thirsty. It is about 9:30 am, the sun is high and it is already hot...
Proof that the atmosphere is really friendly... a group spotting me in the middle of the road with my camera stopped to take the picture of the day...

The end of the Procession at Saphan Hin

What's great in this country when you like to photograph: you always feel a friendly part of the people with a smile. Thai people like to be photographed, it's always a real pleasure for the amateur that I am.
All the participants have arrived at Saphan Hin... the procession has come to an end... the piercings are removed with more or less suffering.
The actors of the processions, stripped of their needles, go inside the Saphan Hin temple for a short session: a prayer, a vow, some kind of excorcism... who knows? 

  The Vidéo

Catering at the Vegetarian Festival

The Phuket Vegetarian Festival is also and above all a 9-day period during which many stalls are set up in the streets of the city offering many vegetarian meals... the video that follows explains all this...