It was the ninth and final evening of Phuket’s renowned Vegetarian Festival when I arrived at the scene with my camera. I settled in to observe the quieter, ‘spiritual’ side of the sometimes overly dramatized ceremonies. Most coverage of the festival centres around riveting scenes of the MaSong who, in their trance-like state, pierce their bodies with a variety of sharp objects. With all its excitement and gore, this certainly is a compelling subject, but I was hoping to capture a more subdued beauty of the ceremonies.
The textures and colours of the Chinese Temple of Tha Rua were my backdrop – that night, what’s probably my favourite temple on the island, was dressed in its finest adornments. I slowly climbed the centre stairs, taking in all of the wondrous decorations, ornaments and atmosphere – yellow flags billowing in the warm breeze, children laughing and playing, elders deep in prayer – it was truly beautiful and exactly what I was looking to capture.
I made my way into the main prayer room, where a sweet smell of incense hung thick in the air. There were no bangs of fireworks there, no yells of entranced revellers, only a magical, hushed reverence on the faces of Thais, who gathered to give offerings and bow in prayer.
The Emperor Gods were ushered off the island back into the spirit world. But in a year, they will return to Phuket to play again.