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Vegetarian Gluttons for Punishment Pursue Pain in Phuket

Doctors in Phuket, Thailand, are warning vegetarians at the annual Chinese Vegetarian Festival that piercing their faces with knives, axes, spades and beach umbrellas could expose them to health risks.

Each year, health authorities warn devoted Buddhists that “Ma Song,” the ritualistic self-infliction of pain, could cause HIV/AIDS and hepatitis infections. And every year, adherents walk barefoot over smoldering coals, climb ladders with rungs made of knife blades and bathe in hot oil—all in pursuit of spiritual trance which will earn good luck for themselves and their neighbors.

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According to local legend, Ma Song or “entranced horses” possess the bodies of devotees and perform self-torture to absorb the evil from their host bodies to themselves. “Handlers” are assigned to entranced devotees to escort them around town with spears, poles and lanterns protruding from their skin, according to the festival’s Web site, PhuketVegetarian.com.

Celebrants keep a strictly vegetarian or vegan diet for part of all of the 10-day festival to avoid inflicting pain and suffering on any life form, with the exception of themselves.

The Phuket Public Health Office advises adherents to sterilize the instruments before inserting them into the skin and “take steps” to prevent viral and bacterial infection, the Phuket Gazette reports.

“Apart from the risks associated with sharp objects, we are also checking to ensure that proper hygiene is being maintained at food stalls by giving advice to vendors,” the health office told the newspaper. Samples of vegetarian food is inspected for safety, the health office reassures.

Click here to visit the Phuket festival's Web site.

Click here to read the report from the PhuketGazette.net.