Every year during the ninth Chinese lunar month, Thailand’s Chinese community celebrates the Tesagin Kin Pak vegetarian festival. The festival began in Phuket over 150 years ago; however, it is celebrated in Krabi as well by the numerous generations of Chinese who grew up in Thailand but still observe Chinese customs.
During Tesagin Kin Pak, the faithful observe ten days of abstinence including eating meat, having sex, drinking alcohol and other habits thought to be pollutants of the body and mind. The devoted also wear only white.
During the first day, an enormous procession happens in downtown Krabi. Maharaj Road, the main business street, is completely blocked off. Tables lined with water and vegetarian treats are set along the sidewalks for the marchers.
Subsequent days are marked with spontaneous mostly motorized processions, complete with high volume sound trucks, down many of Krabi’s busiest thoroughfares grinding traffic to a standstill. Firecrackers explode 24/7, often too close for comfort. The faithful dance barefoot in the streets amongst the exploding gunpowder and are seemingly unaffected. As I watched the opening procession, the mercury hovered around 40°C (104°F), and yet the barefooted marchers seem unaffected by the hot asphalt street.
Undoubtedly, the most notable aspect of this celebration is the hundreds of devotees of the Chinese Kathu shrine. In their honoring of the nine Chinese emperor gods, they “purify” their flesh by achieving a trance-like state and mutilating their bodies, primarily by piercing their faces. Men and women alike participate. The objects range from swords and spears to wrenches and axes. At times it appears to be a competition as to who can come up with the largest instruments.
Most of the participants are ordinary Chinese Thai citizens who on any other day may be shopkeepers, laborers, doctors or restauranteurs. In their meditative state they claim to feel no pain. And indeed, as I watched most seemed unaffected by either the pain of impalation, the intense heat, or the exploding firecrackers underfoot. However, a few did not appear to have achieved this “nirvana,” and obviously suffered pain. Occasionally one is medically removed due to severe dehydration or blood loss. I was told that three devotees died during last years procession but their accumulated karma guarantees a good next life.
The wounds from the piercings are said to quickly heal; and in the days following Tesagin Kin Pak, I did not notice any citizens sporting obvious facial wounds. Whatever your spiritual or religious beliefs may be, it is a truly unique event to witness.