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Thailand vegetarian festival: Swords and other objects used in face-piercing

Thailand’s annual nine-day vegetarian festival kicked off on 8 October with devotees from Loem Hu Thai Su shrine, on the island of Phuket, showing off their eye-catching, some would say alarming, piercing.

Warning: Some may find the images upsetting

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The religious devotees cut themselves with swords, piercing their cheeks with sharp objects and committing other painful acts to purify themselves and take on the sins of the community.

A devotee with two swords pierced through his cheekImage copyright

The participants are known locally as “mah song”, or “horses of the gods”.

Devotees with piercing on their cheek are linked by a chainImage copyright

They wear colourful costumes during the macabre ceremony.

A performer gores his face with a sheath and a swordImage copyright

The festival origins can be traced to a visiting troupe of Chinese performers who fell ill, and practised some of these rituals in order to recover.

Performer with strings running across his pierced cheeksImage copyright

It is claimed the mah song feel no pain because they are possessed by the purifying spirits of the Nine Emperor Gods, who they believe will protect them from any harm or scarring.

A devotee of the Loem Hu Thai Su shrine has a metal rods with roses pierced through his cheeks as he parades during the annualImage copyright

They use a variety of items to decorate their piercing including swords, daggers and fish rods.

Devotee with several knives piercing his cheeksImage copyright

The body mutilation is not the only part of the festival. All Thais must adhere to ritual cleansing activities during this period – including abstaining from alcohol, meat and sex – to ensure good health and peace of mind.

Devotee has multiple skewers pierced through his cheeksImage copyright

The cutting ceremonies take place at the six temples located around Phuket Town.

Performer with an axe pierced through his cheekImage copyright

Individuals choose their own objects, and some seem to compete to fit the heaviest, bulkiest or strangest item through their cheeks.

A devotee with two wrenches pierced through his cheekImage copyright

A devotee has a gas-pump nozzel pierced through his cheekImage copyright

Some participants go through less gruesome piercing.

A devotee of the Loem Hu Thai Su shrine waits to parade with needles pierced through his chinImage copyright

Devotees believe the more pain they feel during this event, the more success they will enjoy in the coming year.

A devotee has a plum leave pierced through his cheekImage copyright

Pictures from AFP

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