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the phuket vegetarian festival, thailand’s version of the taoist nine emperor gods festival, is celebrated by ethnic chinese thais who believe that abstinence from meat, sex and stimulants during the ninth month of the asian lunar calendar will bring about good health and peace of mind. some, known as mah song (roughly translated as “one whose body is used by the gods as a vehicle”) chose doctor supervised self impalement, believing they have been called on by the gods to cleanse the community of evil and bad karma through their suffering. the mah song, however, report that by entering a trance like state - by having their bodies become a vessel for one of the nine emperor gods - they are able to avoid any pain. the festival begins this year on october 5. photos by damir sagolj

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