The highlight of the Vegetarian Festival in Thailand happens in Phuket. Thousands of spectators flock to witness such self-mutilation and cleansing rituals in hopes of gaining a new perspective of this Buddhist tradition.
Self-mutilation is practiced under a supposed trance like state. Those devotees who possess mah song in fact feel no pain. You often see devotees shaking their heads back and forth oblivious to the chaos around them.
Festivities often start early in the morning. After mah song devotees practice the self-mutilating art of cleansing their spirit, they proceed into a procession lasting at least two hours. Devotees are planked by supporters throwing fire crackers to ward of evil spirits. Face masks and ear plugs are a necessity, without them you'll be left with ears ringing and wheezing for the next week.
When devotees do break mah song, for reasons of pain or a break in meditation (check out that sword in his hand), plenty of doctors and medical staff are around to offer assistance. Only a few devotees end up in the hospital; the rest finished the procession in utter exhaustion.
The craziness of the festival far surpasses simply the knife sticking through your cheeks devotees. Thousands of locals and tourists alike come to witness the events. Everything becomes a no hold tourist attraction. While pictures in everyday life might be considered rude, here its part of the deal.
Doctors and medical staff spend weeks, if not months planning out the procedures of the festival. Devotees possess a serious air, while onlookers often gasp, gag, and wince at the leaking and exposed flesh.
These devotees or mediums who perform the self-torturous acts do so to ward evil spirits. The mah song manifest the power to bring all suffering onto themselves and away from the community. The more suffering they endure, the better chance the community has of warding of any sicknesses, misfortunes, and evils that may plague them.
Nothing is complete without blessings in a vastly Buddhist population. Spectators and worshipers kneel and pray as the procession walks on by. Strands of yellow, red, and white yarn are handed to tie around their wrists. Most worshipers will wear these until they fall from natural wear and tear.
Each medium has an entourage surrounding them. Amidst the crowds and chaos, they help them navigate a straight path to through the procession, pushing any distractions, photographers, and nosy tourists out of the way. At the end of the procession at the entrance of the temple, one medium lost his entourage, and nosy tourists stopped the medium for photographs, posing in all sorts of cutesy ways, oblivious to the fact that this medium marched several kilometers with a pole through his mouth, and was now huffing, panting, and in a cold sweat in high heat.
Festival goers dress all in white. Men march with their shirts off with constant fire crackers being shot off. When the reenter the temple at the end of the procession, their white outfits have turned brown, speckled by their own and their fellows blood. Their skin is soaked in sweat with red papers sticking to them from thousands of firecrackers blown below their feet.
Worshipers carry shrines through the streets at a slow and constant pace. They are often stopped to perform blessings. Prior to reentering the temple, they perform a dance, spinning in circles and jumping in a pile of ash while young children throw firecrackers at their feet, protected from the deafening sound with earplugs.
While most of the procession moves slowly through the smoke and firecrackers, you occasionally see small groups of predominately young folk suddenly sprinting through the street. Even though this seems to want to entice anxiety in the streets, the mediums walk on while the worshipers kneel praying on the sidelines.
At the end, shrines are placed in front of the temple while mediums have swords, knives, and bottles removed from their face, and are given noodles, rice, or soup to help with the recovery. The crowds hover looking for what little shade the temple has to offer.
Despite that the mah song stick a variety of knives, bamboo shots, and bottles through their faces, the wounds heal quickly. The mediums return to their daily lives once the festival commences. The only mah song left with lasting scars are the repeat participants.