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Phuket Opinion: Vegetarian Festival goes back to basics

Phuket Opinion: Vegetarian Festival goes back to basics

PHUKET: Without the usual hordes of tourists lining the streets, the Phuket Vegetarian Festival this year seems to have become more traditional than we have seen for many years. Gone are the spectacular face piercings of guns, beach umbrellas, pot plants and even bicycles.

opinionculturereligiontourism
By The Phuket News

Sunday 25 October 2020, 09:00AM


A Mah Song with petrol pump handles as face piercings takes part in a street procession during the Phuket Vegetarian Festival in 2017. Photo: Eakkapop Thongtub

A Mah Song with petrol pump handles as face piercings takes part in a street procession during the Phuket Vegetarian Festival in 2017. Photo: Eakkapop Thongtub

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.

Internal - Phuket Live Radio 89.5

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.

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CaptainJack69 | 25 October 2020 - 14:17:38

But surely the 'Ma Song' are under the direct control of the spirits possessing them. Apparently these spirits are in some way compelled both by the corporeal implications of an earthly virus and by the economic issues raised by the TAT. How nice of them to so closely reflect our own earth-bound problems.

Little Tommy Tucker | 25 October 2020 - 13:19:05

I have been scootering around the island this last week (schools are on half-term). hardly anyone around, apart from the 'participants'. What I observed called by called a damp squib, nowhere near 60,000 visitors, and most certainly no one buying very much. Just more lies and false hopes. No tourists = disaster, it really is that simple!

Kurt | 25 October 2020 - 10:40:11

Good piece of Opinion. Indeed, this year is less bizarre what one can see in the processions. 60,000 people taking part in the festivities? That indeed is just a TAT figure. Can be ignored. Not realistic, as most TAT figures are from the thumb, hold in the wind.

 

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