This gruesome practice where possessed individuals thrust spears and other sharp objects through various parts of their anatomy is a regular attraction in Phuket, where the locals indulge their morbid fascination normally reserved for particularly spectacular fatal car crashes where victims lie decapitated or crushed under trucks. Tourists, too, love to be horrified by witnessing such events, much as they do surreptitiously at Saudi Arabian beheadings.
The writer’s attention was brought to the Phuket-like body-piercing and disfigurement while watching a Dragon Parade processing down Soi Nernplubwaan en route to Naklua by a local Brit resident who stood aghast muttering “My God! They’re cutting their tongues off up the road in the procession.” The writer ascertained that these claims were factual by going to witness the same and sure enough, it was no exaggeration.
The writer didn’t witness any of the other Phuket immolation rituals occurring at that time, but knowing the Thai copyist tendency, there would doubtless be various individuals competing to see who could produce the most damage to themselves. The Vegetarian Festival, a legacy of the Chinese, hence the Dragon Parades, is meant to be one of austerity and leading an upstanding life for 10 days with practitioners observing 10 rules of conduct, including practicing bodily cleanliness, wearing white clothes, not eating meat, whether fowl, fish or animals, only vegetarian fare, abstaining from alcohol consumption and attending shrines to make merit and honour the ancestors. Nowhere, among these rituals are there directives to disfigure, cut off parts of one’s anatomy or immolate i.e. set fire to oneself. This is a later addition, perhaps owing something to sahagamana and sati, the Hindu practice of immolating the widow at funeral ceremonies. Certain warrior cultures, such as those of the South Seas, Borneo and the Charans and Rajputs of India, also practiced self-immolation.
Certain Hindu yogins and fakirs are also credited with being able to walk over burning coals due to deep Samadhi or meditative-concentration. With the Thai variant, the practitioners are reputedly possessed by the spirit of gods or notable Thai kings such as Rama V or King Taksin. The possession is so total that they apparently don’t feel the knives, spears and other sharp implements piecing their cheeks or other body parts. Fire walking and blade running up ladders where the rungs are sharpened knives or machetes are other Phuket ‘attractions’, with similar neutral effects where the possessed apparently feel no pain. There have been no reports of participants losing concentration and going up in smoke or falling dead before the ghoulish crowd, so apparently it works, we’re not so sure about the aftermath, however, when they ‘come down’.
Certainly, there are sufficiently bizarre happenings here in Pattaya already without us having to endure locals impaling themselves or spectacularly cutting off parts of their anatomies; let’s confine it to Phuket and keep Pattaya maniac free.