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
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.
The participants are known locally as “mah song”, or “horses of the gods”.
They wear colourful costumes during the macabre ceremony.
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.
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.
They use a variety of items to decorate their piercing including swords, daggers and fish rods.
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.
The cutting ceremonies take place at the six temples located around Phuket Town.
Individuals choose their own objects, and some seem to compete to fit the heaviest, bulkiest or strangest item through their cheeks.
Some participants go through less gruesome piercing.
Devotees believe the more pain they feel during this event, the more success they will enjoy in the coming year.
Pictures from AFP