By Damir Sagolj

In front of me stood what must have been the most beautiful “god’s” body in the whole of Phuket. Her gentle pink robe swayed above bare feet as she made her way in a trance through the crowd of devotees at the Chinese Jui Tui shrine. And her pretty face was pierced with a long spike, a piece of fruit stuck on its end.

This woman was a “mah song”, roughly translated from the Thai language as “entranced horse” or “one whose body is used by gods as a vehicle”. She was the centre of attention for a good reason. For the day, she represented a god whose powers would help purify members of the community and wash away any bad karma.

GALLERY: Extreme vegetarian festival

“The god has to hurt itself, for cleaning us from our bad deeds”, the brother of a mah song told a confused journalist, who was practically from another universe.

This ritual takes place during the vegetarian festival in Phuket, a place normally better known for its sandy beaches and wild nightlife. The annual festivities last nine days in the ninth lunar month, a time when the local Thai Chinese community celebrates the Nine Emperor Gods festival.

Don’t let the name “vegetarian festival” fool you – this is not a normal family event during which relatives gather around a table to share special food. The festival goes way beyond the tame meaning of its title, and it’s not for those with a weak stomach. Meat may not be on the menu, but the piercing of flesh is a big part of this bizarre event.