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Phuket Vegetarian Festival Kicks Off With Pierced Followers

During the Phuket Vegetarian Festival, a popular event that returned after a two-year pandemic-induced hiatus, Taoist devotees got various parts of their bodies pierced with different objects, including skewers, swords, and even a model ship.

On Tuesday, crowds joined the nine-day celebration honoring the “Nine Emperor Gods.”

The event is internationally known for its traditional piercings and has attracted thousands of visitors to Phuket. Most flock to the southern tourist island to obtain the deities’ blessings and good fortune.

During the festival, devotees avoid consuming animal products and offer their bodies to the Nine God Emperors, hoping to banish bad luck.

Waiting to see a procession of pierced devotees, a 62-year-old adherent said attending the festival had allowed him to “cleanse my mind and concentrate my thoughts.”

Devotees who volunteer to be pierced are known as “mediums.”

According to an 18-year-old onlooker identified as Chitsanuphong Tankongkoy, well-wishers pierce their bodies to express gratitude to the gods and to get rid of their bad luck.

Mediums often consider they have a special connection with the deities. However, not all volunteers are pierced. They must apply and are carefully considered before being awarded the honor of getting the piercings.

After the event began as the sun rose over Phuket on Tuesday, devotees prepared at a local temple. Drums and bells sounded as incense was burned to kick off the day’s festivities.

Unlike the 1825 ritual when a Chinese opera troupe fell ill on the Southern Island, the current festival is supervised by medical personnel and is held under safety measures.

The mediums that emerge from the Jor Soo Gong Naka shrine can pick out the sharp objects for their piercings, but all are carefully guided through their skin as nurses with latex gloves closely supervise the procedures.

Once pierced, the followers guide the mediums through five kilometers until they reach a park by the Andaman Sea. Many devotees appear in a trance with their eyes rolled back as they dance and greet or dispense blessings to the crowds.