*Warning* Graphic content!
I'd read about the Phuket Vegetarian Festival years ago, and finally got around to attending in 2018. I thought the experience would be a little out-there...but it proved to be more insane and thrilling than I ever dreamed.
Legend has it a Chinese opera troupe travelled to Phuket around 150 years ago during an epidemic and fell ill, and feared they would die. Realising they'd forgotten to pay homage to the Nine Emperor Gods, a performer was sent to China to "invite" them to Phuket. The following year, the performers abstained from eating meat, drinking alcohol, having sex, lying, cheating, and so on...and the epidemic ceased.
Every year since, devotees have celebrated this occasion by paying tribute to the Gods, apparently becoming possessed and mutilating their faces and bodies with sharp objects. Doing so is said to bring about good fortune and health to participants and the local community.
Extreme facial piercing wasn't even the extent of the insanity. For days on end, parades of devotees (in varying states of trance and injury) charged up and down Phuket's ordinarily cosy streets, carrying ornamental litters and driving floats and setting off enough firecrackers to simulate a war zone. The noise is meant to scare away evil spirits; in actuality, many participants and onlookers alike experience burns, ringing ears, and fairly intense shell-shock.
Documenting this festival was one of the craziest and most exhilarating things I've ever done. Purely a passion project, I'd go back again in future years in a (rapid) heartbeat.
(Note: I'm still expanding on this album to include many more photos...watch this space.)