The Vegetarian Festival started about 150 years ago in the Kathu district, where the majority of the Chinese tin mine workers were settled in Phuket. They formed such a large portion of the community that a group of Chinese opera performers were hired to entertain them and their families. During the Chinese ninth lunar month, Phuket was hit with an epidemic of a fatal disease and the loss of many lives. The Chinese performers were also falling ill.
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Eventually, they realised they had forgotten to pay homage to the Nine Emperor Gods (Kiu Ong Iah) in the first nine days of the month. Thus, one of the performers was sent to China to invite the Kiu Ong Iah to Phuket. The next year the Chinese followed the tradition of refraining from eating meat, drinking alcoholic drinks, engaging in sex, quarreling, telling lies or killing. The epidemic ceased, and, every year since, the people of Phuket have continued to celebrate the festival.
Visitors are perhaps most impressed with the spectacle of people, ostensibly possessing by gods, piercing their tongues, cheeks, and other parts of the anatomy with sharp implements. Adepts apparently feel no pain, and show little no sign of real injury.