Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Phuket Vegetarian Festival

Later on in the evening we get down to Phuket town to see the finale of the Phuket vegetarian festival. The possessed Mah Song are going to flog themselves with boiling oil. We arrive early to see a cauldron of oil being fed by a coal fire being stirred by assistants.

Time went by slowly but the spectators were lined up in rows, both local and foreign. Finally the first possessed came by wagging his head and went to pay his respects at the altar. One by one more followed and they all gathered around the cauldron. They were speaking all the time but I was too far away to see or hear what they were saying and I presume they were mostly speaking Chinese anyways. Soon enough all mediums were given yellow rags and they started dipping them into the cauldron and the lashing themselves over their bare backs with it. I could not see anybody getting burns on their skins. After awhile these rags was shredded and thrown to the audience, needless to say there was a scuffle where the rag landed. Later on the assistants bottled the boiled oil and sold it against a donation for the temple. At this stage we left the scene and went for a vegetarian late dinner.

Next day went busy working but on Monday 26th is the grande finale at Sapan Hin in Phuket Town for the veg fest so me and Saini decide to go. When we arrive and find some parking after long searching we are emerging to a warzone. There is a continuous thump coming down form a car stereo show, rockets and bangers being fired all the time. The air is thick from cordite smell and smoke. We walk around the car stereo show and gape at the sound systems installed in the cars, just incredible show pieces. After that we wander down to the beach and see the Chinese temple and people lined up sitting and waiting. We also see construction of several bonfires. Rockets and other incendiaries are fired off continuously. We walk around and finally decide to sit down near one of the unlit bonfires.

Just one of the rockets...

We sit and chat and wonder about all the action, Saini confirms it is more fireworks than during Diwali in India and soon enough the people gets more and more. The whole field in forn tof the Chinese temple gets filled up and one can hear fireworks going off like machine guns and the smoke is gettig more dense, soon enough one can't see the sky. The noise is deafening. Pall bearers emerge from the smoke carrying effigies of Chinese Gods on chairs, carrying them to the waters edge. They are all like demons from the underworld coming from a barrage of crackers beings thrown at their feet. Everybody is covered in rags from head to toe.

Chinese Temple at Sapan Hin

Eventually I can see there is a lull in the activity and some kind of ceremony is underway in the middle of the field, I can't see it, just a huge parasol is held up at the centre of activities. Finally it starts moving and the parasol heads for the sea. People gather around the pyre with burning torches, guards go around and wards off anybody trying to light the pyre too early. Finally the parasol reaches the waterfront and the pyre is set on fire. It quickly gathers momentum and the heat is incredible, me and people around me retreats back. This seems to be the highlight of the proceedings so after this me and Saini head back for the car and the ship.

Sending off a lantern for good luck

The traffic is same as during rush hour despite it is midnight and we try to find a circuitous route out of Phuket Town and finally manage to do it. Doing tis we discover that all roads coming from Chinese Temples are covered in red paper debris coming from the fireworks being thrown at the people walking to Sapan Hin. No wonder they all were covered in rags from top to toe and looked like Bat's out of Hell when they arrived...

More of The Nine Emperor Gods Festival

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