All the spiritual adornments borne by the Mah Song spirit mediums during the street processions so far this year have been the traditional skewers, knives and swords, and other blessed instruments of faith.
Literally only a few years ago, the festival came under softly-spoken criticism for the wild – bordering on bizarre – face piercings borne by some Mah Song during the processions amid concern that the festival was drifting away from its roots.
Administrators at the Chinese shrines taking part in the Vegetarian Festival were asked by to do what they could to encourage more traditional practices during the festival, though it was understood that it was only a request, as it would be disrespectful to instruct revered gods to abide by a local ordinance.
That request, from officials no less, came despite those same non-traditional face piercings being the standard-bearer images for the festival gracing covers of magazines around the world, for years driving tourists to the island to witness the festival for themselves.
This year, that seems to be of little consequence, and it is hard to say that it has not had a positive impact on the festival itself.
Earlier this month Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) Governor Yuthasak Supasorn announced that the Phuket Vegetarian Festival this year was expected to attract some 60,000 people to take part in the festivities, altogether generating a projected more than B350 million in revenues for local businesses.
However, reports by vendors operating stalls in front of the participating shrines have yet to confirm anywhere near that level of success.
Whether or not the Phuket Vegetarian Festival enjoys a return to its previous popularity as seen during the heady days of mass tourism to the island, it appears that the festival this year is one just for the true believers. That alone deserves praise.