After piercing the cheeks, lips or tongue, religious devotees thrust metal implements, often several at a time, through the holes to purify themselves in a bizarre vegetarian festival in Phuket, Thailand.
Thousands of people travel to the island each year for the festivities while the local ethnic Chinese population, about a third of Phuket’s population, abstain from meat, sex, alcohol and other vices during the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar.
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They believe that the sacred rituals will banish evil from their community and give them good luck and fortune.
Walking barefooted over hot coals, climbing ladders with bladed rungs and taking baths in hot oil are also part of the rituals done by entranced devotees. They believe being in a trance gives them supernatural powers and the ability to endure these excruciating tortures for the common good.
Their suffering – they hope – draws evil out of the community around them and, in doing so, brings positive luck to their friends and village.
Called Prapheni Kin Jay or Prapheni Kin Phak in Thai meaning the Festival for Eating Vegetables, is on until next Wednesday.
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For those who do not wish to put themselves through something that will require heavy reconstructive surgery once the party is over, there are other ways to scare off dark powers.
The firework displays that take place during the festival – including the loudest and biggest, which rounds off matters on the final night – are also deemed to fend off evil spirits through sheer force of noise.
The ten-day self-cleansing festival’s origins are almost as odd as its unusual rituals. It dates back to 1825, and the visit of a traveling Chinese theatre company to the Thai mining town of Get-Hoe.
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When the touring actors succumbed to tropical fever in the jungle-clad region, they opted to keep to a strict vegetarian diet, hoping that this would please the gods – who would then relieve them of the illness.
The plan worked – and whether or not the thespians’ improved health was down to better diet than celestial intervention – the festival was born.