The History of The Vegetarian Festival
The Vegetarian Festival dates back around 150 years. At the time the Kathu area of Phuket, had a large Chinese community made up of tin mine workers and their families. The community was so large that Chinese opera singers were hired to come to Phuket to entertain them.
During the 9th Lunar month of the Chinese calendar, a malaria epidemic broke out in Phuket. The disease proved to be fatal and many people lost their lives. The Chinese Opera singers were also falling victim to the spreading illness.
The Chinese community believed that the performers had forgotten to pay homage to the “Nine Emperor Gods” (Kiu Ong Iah) during the first 9 days of the month. They believed that as a result of this oversight the epidemic had raged through Phuket.
To reverse this bad fortune, one of the performers was dispatched back to China. Their task was to invite Kiu Ong Iah to come and visit Phuket.
During the 9th Lunar month of the following year, the Chinese community followed a very strict Chinese tradition. They were forbidden from eating meat, drinking alcohol, sex, arguing, lying and killing. Thankfully, the malaria epidemic ceased.
The strict Chinese tradition was to become the blueprint for the, “Vegetarian Festival”. Every year since, the people of Phuket have continued to celebrate the festival during the late September – early October period.
The Modern Day Vegetarian Festival
The modern day, “Vegetarian Festival” takes place over 9 days in late September and into early October. It is believed that the festival brings good luck, good health and peace of mind.
Participants observe 9 commitments for the full 9 day period of the festival.
- To maintain cleanliness of the body
- To clean kitchen utensils – they are not to be used by anyone else also participating in the festival
- To wear white clothing only throughout the 9 days
- To behave both physically and mentally
- To not eat any meat what-so-ever
- To avoid sex
- To not drink any alcoholic drinks
- Anyone who is in mourning should not participate in the festival
- Any pregnant women or menstruating women - must not attend the festival
There are a number of exciting and colourful ceremonies, which take place throughout the 9 days. The ceremonies are performed to summon the Gods and bring them into existence.
Throughout the ceremonies, the participants will act as mediums for the Gods. The ceremonies take place across Phuket in the 6 different Chinese Temples.
They will perform tasks such as firewalking and piercing their bodies with various sharp objects. The latter has become more and more spectacular and gruesome as the years have progressed. Participants pierce their faces with knives, skewers and other sharp household items.
It is believed that the Gods will protect the participants from any harm and as a consequence there will be little blood and little scarring of their bodies.
The Raising of The Lantern Pole Ceremony
The first event of the, “Vegetarian Festivals”, is the “Raising of the Lantern Pole”. This signifies the tradition of notifying the 9 Gods that the festival has begun. The Lantern pole is at least 10 metres tall.
Once the pole is erected, it is believed that the Hindu God, Shiva, descends bringing spiritual powers to the festival.
The Vegetarian Festival Traditions
Over the next few days, the local community bring their household Gods to the Temple. It is believed that the household Gods will benefit from an injection of spiritual energy that can only be found in the Temple. People will also bring food and drink to offer to the Gods.
Visitors are welcome to attend this ceremony and to observe the lighting of joss ticks and candles that are places around the Gods.
There are then street processions, whereby the festival participants appear to be walking in a trance.
There are many exciting events to watch – such as hundreds of local residents running across a bed of burning coals.<br class="break" />
Participants can be seen climbing an 8 meter high ladder which are fitted with sharp blades. They ascend the ladder in a trance like state unable to feel the pain of the blades.
Visitors to the festival can enjoy a variety of vegetarian dishes which are readily available on street stalls and markets. The outlets selling vegetarian cuisine will have yellow flags with Thai or Chinese lettering on them.
Visit The Vegetarian Festival With Phuket Tour Guides
If you are in Phuket in late September/early October you may like to visit the, “Phuket Vegetarian Festival”. You will be amazed by the ceremonies taking place across Phuket. Many guests enjoy taking photographs of the events.
Phuket Tour Guides, can assign you to your own local guide. They will be with you throughout the events – explaining what is going on and the history behind the customs.
If you are interested in learning about Thai culture, this event will be perfect for you. You will not see anything so spectacular anywhere else.
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