Phuket Vegetarian Festival is the most popular in town for a reason. Like it or hate it but you can certainly not remain indifferent to it. Unlike other festivals and celebrations, this festival involves a lot of gory scenes besides fireworks and fancy attires. The phuket vegetarian festival takes place every year. Read along to know about the most peculiar festival in Phuket- The Phuket Vegetarian Festival.
When is it celebrated?
The annual Phuket Vegetarian Festival takes place during the 9th Lunar Month of the chinese calendar. It falls usually in the month of September or October. It celebrates the unique belief of the chinese community in the holiness of vegetarian food. They believe that adopting a vegetarian diet and paying homage to the nine Gods wards off the evil spirits.
There are different stories behind how the Phuket Vegetarian Festival began, however the most widely accepted is the China Opera troupe Story. It is believed that long ago, a famous Chinese Opera band visited the island to perform for the Chinese inhabitants of Phuket. On their arrival, the entire band got inflicted with a deadly Malaria pandemic. All of the then medicine failed to cure them so they unanimously decided to adopt a strict vegetarian diet.
Along with the restrictive vegan diet, they also vowed to pray to the Nine Emperor God known as the Kiu Ong Lah, for the reason of cleansing their body and soul. Fortunately, the crew recovered from the disease and that is how the Phuket Vegetarian Festival came into being.
Why is the festival still celebrated?
It is celebrated by the religious devotees to honor the Gods and express gratitude to them for saving the people's lives and granting them good health. The festival is becoming more eventful year after year. The streets of Phuket island are crowded with the thousands of visitors, mostly from Asia and China, that visit to participate in the festival every year. But don’t get too excited about this event until you have read our bottom line in this article or you might regret later.
Preparation for the Festivals
The preparation for the festival gears up long before the main day. Yellow chinese flags are put up in the entire city. All the Chinese shrines on the island are cleaned, painted, and decorated with Chinese Ancestry inspired decorations.
Stages are also set up in the shrines for the festival. Most restaurants in and around Phuket remain shut during the festival. Pure vegetarian food stalls are set up on all major streets of Phuket that strictly serve vegetarian dishes. A fun-fact here is that you will hardly find any vegetables on the stalls. Most of them sell noodles, sushi, tofu shaped like meat and other fast foods.
The Main Celebration
The festival begins by the raising of a 10-meter-tall bamboo pole in all Chinese shrines across the island. It is called the Raising of the Lantern Pole. This ritual is believed to summon the Nine Emperor God on earth. Once the pole is erected, the Hindu God Shiva descends, as per the celebrant's belief. This ceremony is usually calm and quiet.However, you can see a lot of buzz later in the week during the parades.
Each day, the street procession starts from one of the leading Shrines in Phuket. Devotees come out in bright traditional Chinese costumes and carry their household Gods to the big temples. Joss sticks and candles are lit before placing the Gods in the temples. The peculiarity of this festival lies in its extreme celebrations that include body piercing, fire walking, climbing tall leaders of sharp blades, throwing firecrackers on the devotees etc. There are participants who-as a medium of God- indulge in the act of self-mutilation.
The Last Day of The Festival
The most happening of all is the last day that marks the end of this festival. On the last day, devotees from all the Chinese shrines assemble in Phuket town and walk towards the Saphan Hin. Fireworks are stopped at all the establishments and thrown at the devotees. The street is filled with dense smoke and the loud noise of fireworks.
The festival ends just after midnight when the devotees have sent back the Nine Emperor Gods. Bamboo poles are removed from the shrines the following day and safely out back for the next year.
Where to Experience it?
Phuket Vegetarian Festival is celebrated all across the town. There are over 40 chinese shrines in Phuket and all of them take out a parade during the festival. However, the two biggest processions are taken out from the Bang Neaw and Jui Tui shrines.Besides volume, the thing that sets Jui Tui apart is featuring women as Chinese Goddesses. Apart from the Goddesses, there are brave chinese warriors and young devotees.The best place to book a hotel is near this shrine or any other prominent one.
If you are a faint-hearted person, we advise you to not watch these parades as the devotees perform eerie acts of self-mutilation such as slicing their tongues with a sword, piercing their body and face with sharp skewers, etc. They believe that by doing so the evil deeds will come up on them and spare the community, bringing them good luck.
What rules to follow if you are participating as a Devotee
These rules are a must-follow for anyone who participates in the festival.
- Keep yourself clean throughout the festival.
- Segregate your utensils from those who are not participating.
- White clothes must be worn during the festival.
- Participants must behave both physically and mentally.
- No meat or animal products to be consumed during the festival.
- All acts of Sexual intercourse must be avoided during the festival.
- You have to refrain from all sorts of intoxication.
- People in a grieving period should not attend the festival.
- Pregnant women should not attend or watch any of the rituals.
- Ladies who have their menstrual cycle should not attend the festival
Chinese Shrines in Phuket
As mentioned earlier, there are over 40 Chinese Shrines in Phuket and all of them participate in the festival. The five most ancient Shrines are Put Jaw, Jui Tui, Bang Niew, Cherng Talay, and Kathu Shrine.
The Bottom Line
The Vegetarian Festival in Phuket is a unique spectacle that attracts thousands of visitors every year.There are no hard and fast rules for viewers except that you must not do anything that is a sign of disrespect to the belief and custom of the people.If possible, put on white clothes to blend in with the local community.
The sight of blood and mutilation is gory and might be very disturbing to some. Therefore, it is important to come mentally prepared. Otherwise it can land you in a mess.
The Phuket Vegetarian Festival has a long history dating back to the early 1800s when Chinese immigrants settled in Phuket. The festival was initially held as a way to cleanse the body and soul, and it involved abstaining from meat and other stimulants while participating in religious ceremonies. Over time, the festival evolved to include the practice of piercing as a form of spiritual purification.
The practice of piercing, known as "ma song," is a significant part of the Phuket Vegetarian Festival. It involves participants piercing their cheeks, tongue, and other parts of their bodies with sharp objects as a way to demonstrate their devotion to the gods and to purify themselves spiritually.
The Phuket Vegetarian Festival 2023 is taking place from October 13 to October 22. This is based on the Chinese lunar calendar, which determines the dates of the festival every year. The festival is a celebration of the Chinese community’s belief that abstaining from meat and other stimulants can bring good health and peace of mind. The festival also involves various rituals and ceremonies, such as fire walking, body piercing, and processions
The Vegetarian Festival is celebrated in various parts of Thailand, and the dates may vary depending on the location. However, the festival is typically held in October, so it is likely to occur during that month in 2022 and 2023. It is best to check the specific location's schedule for exact dates.
The name of the Vegetarian Festival in Phuket Thetsakan kin che.
The Nine Emperor Gods. They are also referred to as Jiu Huang Da Di (The Nine Great Emperors) in the Taoist pantheon.
The main gods of Taoism include the Jade Emperor (Yu-huang), the Three Pure Ones (San-ch'ing), the First Principal (Yuan-shih T'ien-tsun), the Three Officials (San-kuan), the Three Epochs (San-yuan), T'ien-shih, and the Eight Immortals (Pa-hsien).
You can eat at the various vegetarian stalls set up on the street.
Editor - Thailand Nomads
Cindy quit her 9 to 5 job to pursue her passion for exploring mesmerizing locations in Thailand. She has been living here for the past 5 years now and through Thailand Nomads, she shares her experiences and insights about the must-visit places in Thailand.