pink_trike wrote:It looks like a combination of group hysteria and an attempt to create a touri$t attraction to me.
It is possible that this particular festival has become something of an 'attraction'. But to my knowledge, such seemingly 'old school' religious festivals have around in various Asian communities for a long time and are still taking place.
I have personally witnessed some of them in Singapore where I grew up--and mind you, Singapore is an ultra-modern society. These festivals have become tourist attractions, although they aren't held solely for that purpose. I have seen Chinese festivals that involve mediums, seances, and so forth. These festivals, I believe, derive from traditional folk interpretations of shamanistic Taoism.
There's also the Hindu festival of Thaipusam that seems to be a major thing for the Indian (particularly Tamil) diaspora in Southeast Asia.
Like the Taoist festival mentioned above, Thaipusam also involves mortification of the flesh.
On the day of the festival, devotees will shave their heads undertake a pilgrimage along a set route while engaging in various acts of devotion, notably carrying various types of kavadi (burdens). At its simplest this may entail carrying a pot of milk, but mortification of the flesh by piercing the skin, tongue or cheeks with vel skewers is also common.
The simplest kavadi is a semi circular decorated canopy supported by a wooden rod that is carried on the shoulders, to the temple. In addition, some have a small spear through their tongue, or a spear through the cheeks. The spear pierced through his tongue or cheeks reminds him constantly of Lord Murugan. It also prevents him from speaking and gives great power of endurance. Other types of kavadi involve hooks stuck into the back and either pulled by another walking behind or being hung from a decorated bullock cart or more recently a tractor, with the point of incisions of the hooks varying the level of pain. The greater the pain the more god-earned merit.
What amazes me is how these people do not seem to sustain any real injuries from all the body piercing.
BTW, I am not posting this to pass judgement on these traditions or anything like that. I just find it fascinating to encounter diverse cultural practices.