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Phuket Vegetarian Festival
by Expat Focus columnist, Anne O'Connell
As the 187th annual Phuket Vegetarian Festival approaches, I remember when I first experienced it shortly after our arrival last year. It happens each year (hence the ‘annual’ moniker), during the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar. This year it will be October 14-23.
It was quite an eye opener for me. My friend Thanya invited me to her temple, the Cherng Talay Temple in Phuket, to join in the celebrations. It was an intense scenario that initially made my nerves stand on edge. Fire-crackers, loud drumming and bells clanging rang in my ears and enveloped me like a shroud of scratchy, wet wool. Even my visual senses were assaulted as I watched the 14 year old daughter of a dear friend of Thanya’s, who it was explained to me was ‘mah song’, get possessed by a Chinese Goddess, right in front of me.
I was mesmerized as Ama and a semi-circle of other ‘chosen ones’ (also known as ‘horses of the Gods’) started writhing and shaking, their eyes rolling back into their heads.
Ama and her compatriots are what is known as Shamans or mediums, chosen for their purity by their respective Gods and Goddesses to be vessels for messages and guidance, especially during the Phuket Vegetarian Festival. I was reassured that she was okay and that rituals that cleanse and heal were taking place simultaneously.
I was a little sceptical that they were all okay as I witnessed one of the mah song slice open his bottom lip and another, who was down on bended knee, lift an axe over his head and run it up and down between his shoulder blades leaving a stream of blood flowing down his back. During the celebrations, many of the ‘possessed’ will mutilate themselves seemingly doing the bidding of their possessor while in a trance and claiming not to feel or remember anything. It’s supposedly an honour. I guess I was lucky at the tameness of the spectacle I was witness to since at another temple not far away, others were driving stakes through both cheeks, walking across beds of burning coals or climbing ladders made of blades...
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- Forum Legend