PHUKET: The organizers of the upcoming Phuket Vegetarian Festival are calling for Chinese shrines taking part in the annual rituals to issue identity cards to their spirit mediums.
The move to issue the ID cards to the mediums, called mah song (literally “Horses of the Gods”), is to preserve the integrity of the spirit-medium community and to stop “fakes” from taking part in the festival, Prasert Fakthongphol, president of Phuket Shrine Association, explained yesterday.
“I am the organizing president at Bang Niaw Shrine, where we have issued identity cards for every mah song – a total of 350 mah song – since last year.
“We started here first. We would like to set an example for others to follow,” he said.
Each identity card will state the mah song‘s name, which god possess that particular mah song, a unique ID number and a head-shot photograph of the mah song clearly showing his or her face.
“This will be useful for the mah song as well because they can use the card to prove that they are real mah song. It is convenient for officials too, so they can differentiate which mah song are real and which ones are fakes simply by asking for the card,” Mr Prasert added.
There are about 2,000 to 3,000 mah song in Phuket, he said.
“We need identity cards to control them. We want to have information of each mah song recorded on the registration document.
“We are concerned that other people may misunderstand spirit mediums. They might have the wrong perception that spirit mediums are just a joke – or worse. We don’t want our long heritage to be destroyed by fakes,” he added.
Mr Prasert called for help from the public in identifying imposters by taking photographs of any mah song joining the festival pierced with unusual objects.
Piercings must use weapons stated in the legends only, such as swords and bladed staffs. Examples of unusual piercings were guns and umbrellas, Mr Prasert said.
“Younger mah song might do this without thinking. In years past, we took photos of them [with unusual weapons] and called them up so we could explain the legends to them so they would understand the significance of what they were doing,” he said.
“We do not have enough time to keep an eye on all mah song joining the festival, so we would like to ask anybody with cameras or mobile phones with cameras to take photographs of mah song with unusual weapons and let us know which shrine the mah song was representing,” said Mr Prasert.
Mr Prasert cited the example of Paitoon Khopwej, who joined a temple parade as a medium in the 2006 festival but skewered a pig’s tongue placed in his mouth instead of his own.
Mr Paitoon was beaten and arrested and then jailed for 15 days for ‘deceiving the public’.
“I have no idea what he wanted [from doing that]. Maybe he intended to destroy our culture,” he said.
“People can report mah song with inappropriate piercings to shrine committee members. We will then report them to the police,” Mr Prasert said.
The annual Phuket Vegetarian Festival will be held this year from September 27 through October 5.
— Janpen Upatising