An enthusiast of the Nine Emperor Gods is seen with multiple skewers pierced through his mouth during the annual Vegetarian Festival in the southern province of Phuket, Thailand. Believers throughout the week will reveal their spiritual dedication through ritualistic self-mutilation and pain trials, consisting of running over hot coals, facial piercings and body piercing with an impressive – and stomach-turning – range of items.
The Phuket Vegetarian Festival celebrates the beginning of Taoist Lent when devout Chinese avoid eating all meat and other vices. The festival happens on the first nine days of the 9th lunar month of the Chinese calendar. Everyone gowns in white, and store owners set up little altars with offerings of incense, flowers, candle lights, fruit, and 9 cups of tea to the nine emperor deities honored by the festival. Mediums bring the nine gods to earth going into a hypnotic trance state and body piercing themselves with all type of items, climbing knife ladders, and strolling on hot coals. The mediums take part in day-to-day processions through the town where they stop at the shop altars, drink one of the 9 cups of tea, and deal blessings to the merchants. The shopkeepers stand in prayer like style respecting the mediums that are momentarily had by the deity. The self-torture body piercing is done to shift evil from individuals to the mediums and bring the community best of luck. Young guys bring altars of the goddess images through town which culminates at main places where merchants cover them with long hairs of firecrackers and bigger dynamites. The louder and longer blasts are best to repel wicked spirits. The experience is deafening and engulfs the males and alters in an agonizing barrage of fire and smoke.
Chinese tour groups pertain to witness because there is no record of this type event of Taoist Lent in China. The festival is believed to have started when a Chinese theater troupe fell ill for failing to honor the nine emperor gods of Taoism. They were quickly cured when they adhered to the nine-day ritual now held each year promoting inner peace, brightness, and proper hygiene.