In Thailand the Vegetarian Festival is celebrated throughout the southeast Asian nation however more so on the island city of Phuket. On the eve of the ninth moon, temples of the Chinese Emperor Gods hold ceremonies to welcome them. A carnival like atmosphere soon sweeps throughout Phuket as devotees in white carry incense and candles, ring bells and chant prayers.
It's origins date back to the early 1800's when Chinese immigrants working as tin miners became sick most likely with malaria. A traveling opera troupe in Phuket at the time were also sick chose to follow a strict vegetarian diet to cure the illness. It worked and legend says all were cured. The people of the town of Phuket were so amazed at the results they continue to observe the traditions today.
The Phuket Vegetarian Festival attracts large crowds over the nine day celebration, mostly because of the sight of devotees who have pierced themselves with unusual objects.
During the nine days those participating in the festival wear white and stick to a strict vegetarian diet. There is always a booming business in vegetarian restaurants In Phuket as vendors hawk offerings of tofu all made to taste like almost any meat, fish or poultry dish.
Mah Song, also known as Spirit Horses are the devotees who invite the spirits of the gods to possess their bodies. These are the devotees you see in the street procession with their faces, usually, pierced with all manner of sharp objects. The deity that enters the Mah Song's body protects it from pain and injury. This they say is why you almost never see blood or scaring when pierced. According to tradition only pure, unmarried men or women without families of their own can become a Mah Song. Once a devotee enters a trance like state they are said to experience no pain.
Mah Song is translated as spirit horse of the gods. The spirit horse carries the god inside their bodies and mind. According to local beliefs a person can be chosen or contacted by the gods during a dream or a vision.
Recently the the costumes have become more elaborate and the devotees who pierce themselves have started to add some unusual piercing items such as hand guns, shotguns, chainsaws, desk lamps, bicycles, beach umbrellas and the steering column of a motorcycle. Teams of people usually accompany the devotees, helping them to carry the larger more cumbersome objects.
Fireworks also play a huge part of the celebration as locals want evil spirits chased away and good fortune bestowed through the use of long strands of firecrackers.
The finals days of the festival are dedicated to fire walking and bladed ladder climbing.