Phuket Vegetarian Festival – Nine Emperor Gods Festival!
The most important Phuket festival that is held each year must certainly be the Vegetarian festival. The Vegetarian festival in Phuket takes place during the first 9 days of the 9th lunar month of the traditional Chinese calendar.
The Vegetarian festival normally falls in the last week of September of within the first week of October. The event is organized each year to celebrate the start of the Taoist lent. Due to the large number of Phuket residents with Chinese roots, the Taoist lent is celebrated among a large group of the population of Phuket. The festival starts of by devout Chinese religious believers completely abstaining from all dairy and meat products.
The festivities in Phuket that are held during the vegetarian festival can be found at one of the five main Chinese temples on Phuket. The best Chinese temples to visit are the Bang Niaw Chinese Temple and the Jui Tui Chinese Temple.
History Of The Vegetarian Festival
If you ask the Phuket residents with Chinese roots as to the origin of the festival then they will tell you a tragic story. The origin of the vegetarian festival went back for quite a long time. It is believed that the Vegetarian festival was commenced by a wandering opera group from China who were infected with malaria while playing opera on the island. The opera group realized that they had forgotten to pay homage to the Nine Emperor Gods in the first nine days of the month. The group then adopted a vegetarian diet to pay respect to those emperor deities. As a result, the illness afflicting the opera group miraculously vanished. Once the people of Phuket town knew about this ,they adopted the faith and observe the vegetarian dieting enthusiastically. In addition to this, members of the opera group were sent back to China to find out more about how the rites should be properly executed. On their coming back to Phuket, they brought back the holy writings together with sacred name plaques which had the status of gods. The plaques invited the emperor gods to come the island to drive off the evil spirits. As a result, each year the rituals are performed at the commencing on the first eve of the ninth month in the lunar calendar.
What To Expect At The Vegetarian Festival
The vegetarian festival involves more then only the abstinence of dairy and meat products. Other parts of the festival includes the temple offerings to the Monks, offering of gifts to the nine emperor gods which awake during the festival, fireworks and cultural shows but to name a few.
A number of participants to the vegetarian festival on Phuket act as mediums between the 9 deities to earth. These mediums try to achieve a special state of trance. Once this state of trance is reached, participants would dress in all white and follow the commitments such as be a vegetarian, perform no sex, no alcohol, behave themselves well. That said, during the festival, pregnant and menstruating women are not allowed to take part in these ceremonies. The rituals are performed at 6 of Chinese shrines in the island. The main shrine known as Jui Tui Shrine is located close to the fresh market in town.
The first event is to raise the Lantern Pole which is an act to notify all nine Chinese gods that the vegetarian festival is starting. The raising of the lantern pole marks the inauguration of the festival when, it is believed that the Hindu god, Lord Shiva, the source of energy, descends to induce power upon the observers who get into a state of trance and enact dare-devil acts. The pole is generally more than 10 metres long and erected in the vicinity of the Chinese temples scattered all over Phuket. Jui Tui Shrine is the chief shrine located near the Fresh Market in Phuket town.
During the festival, the shops and streets are decorated with festoons and flags. The streets are chock-a-block with people who venture out to see the brilliant display of lights and daring acts and performances that take place. One will find men and women piercing their bodies with sharp objects, walking barefoot on hot and burning charcoal or climbing the sharp-edged rungs of a ladder, acts that are considered as rituals to seek the blessings of the God.
The most exciting parts of the festival that is different from most other festivals around the world is the gruesome ceremonies held to invoke the nine gods. Those actions include walk on hot fire, body piercing and self mortification where participants would puncture their cheeks with assorted items such as skewers, knives, skewers. Those people think that the Chinese gods will protect them from trauma.
The local people usually take their household gods to the temple as they believe that the household gods will benefit from the yearly shot of spiritual. For visitors, in addition to the dramatic eye witness of this astonishing festival, visitors can enjoy an extended range of tasteful vegetarian Thai and Chinese cuisine made available on street across the island. The vegetarian dishes are recognized by the yellow flags with red Thai and Chinese characters.
Afterwards these special Vegetarian festival mediums all join a large procession which takes them by many shops which have places altars along the street with special offerings. These mediums pick up the fruits which are offered to them by the shop keepers and they add the offerings to the sharp items which are sticking out of their cheeks. If there is no space available the mediums will give the offerings to bystanders.
It is said to be a sign of good luck and a true blessing if one is to receive a gift from one of the mediums during the festival procession.
Vegetarian Food In Phuket
Most people in Thailand become vegetarian at various points in their lives. Many give up meat for life, but often it is a temporary thing, but a whole range of cuisines has grown up to cater for this taste.
Here, tourismkit.com looks at vegetarian food in Thailand and the potential benefits of eating it. In the West, vegetarianism, although growing in popularity, is still very much a minority choice, but in Thailand it is common.
Known in Thai as mung-sa-wi-rat, it is practiced by most Thais from time to time, sometimes as a way to cleanse the body after a long period of feeling unwell, sometimes simply in order to improve one’s Karma. Thais of Chinese descent will often take things further, practicing something closer to veganism, and eating no animal products. This is known as gin jay. They also avoid eating plants such as onions and garlic, partly because the eating of these requires the plants to be uprooted and therefore killed.
Vegetarian Ingredients in Thai cooking
There are, of course, many, many vegetables to choose from. In general Thai people consume more fruit and vegetables than meat. When it comes to ingredients for Thai cuisine, the variety is also huge – soy sauces, soy bean paste, tofu, fresh chilli and chilli powder, garlic, lemon grass, coconut milk, mushrooms, galangal (or kha, a relative of ginger), coriander, red onions, kaffir lime and lemon grass.
Many of these ingredients are not only delicious but also have medicinal properties. Here are some examples:
- Chilies are believed by many people to help normalise blood pressure and blood flow in the body. Chilies also contain significant amounts of magnesium.
- Galangal acts as a stimulant and is believed to have aphrodisiac properties.
- The juice of kaffir lime is good for promoting healthy gums and is recommended for use when brushing one’s teeth. The rind is believed to be good for the blood and is used as an ingredient in medical tonics.
- Lemon grass and galangal, are known to be beneficial for the digestive system.
- Krapao (Thai basil) is a good source of Vitamin C, iron, calcium and phosphorus. It is also believed to improve the eyesight.
Some studies shows that a vegetarian diet combined with exercise can make a person healthier than if they eat meat. A vegetarian diet may also reduce the risks of contracting conditions such as heart disease, kidney stones, lung cancer, and breast cancer.
Recommended Thai Vegetarian Dishes
- Pad tau-hu priew waan (sweet and sour fried tofu)
- Tom yam hed (sour & spicy mushroom soup)
- Pad Thai (Thai fried rice noodles)
- Pad pak ruam (mixed fried vegetables such as baby corn, carrot and snow peas)
- Po pia thod (fried spring rolls)
- Pad krapao tau-hu (yellow tofu fried with basil and chili)
- Pak thod (deep fried vegetables in batter – similar to Japanese tempura)
Chinese Shrines To Visit During Vegetarian Festival In Phuket Town
There are more than 40 Chinese shrines scattered around the island. Many of them are just small buildings but all participate in the Vegetarian festival. Visitors who want to experience the most of this event should visit the major shrines including the five oldest shrines in Phuket; Put Jaw, Jui Tui, Bang Niew, Cherng Talay, and Kathu Shrine. Alternatively, see the list below.
- Baan Tha Rue Shrine, Thepkrasattri Road, not far from the Heroines’ Monument
- Cherng Thalay Shrine, Sri Soonthorn Road, Thalang District
- Sapam Shrine, Thepkrasattri Road, Koh Kaeo, Phuket Town
- Yok Ke Keng Shrine, Soi Panieng, Samkong, Phuket Town
- Samkong Shrine, Yaowarat Road, on the north side of Phuket Town
- Kathu Shrine, Wichitsongkram Road, Kathu District
- Put Jaw Shrine, On the corner of Soi Phuthorn, Ranong Road, Phuket Town
- Jui Tui Shrine, Soi Phutorn, Ranong Road Soi 4, Phuket Town
- Sui Boon Tong Shrine (aka Lorong Shrine), Pattana Road, Phuket Town
- Bang Neow Shrine, Phuket Road, on the south side of Phuket Town
- Thep Rasi Shrine, Phuket Road, near Robinson Department Store, Phuket town
- Kiew Tien Keng Shrine, Sapanhin Park, Phuket Town
To sum it all, the atmosphere of the vegetarian festival is certainly unique and should be experienced by every traveler who is staying on the island during the event. If one was to describe the whole event in a few words then the festival could be described as a religious frenzy.
Where ever you look you will see spectacular ritual dancing, loud fireworks, blood stained shirt worn by the mediums and ancient religious worshiping activities.
Visit information about festivals section to explore a full list of festivals happening around the world yearly!