The 10 day Phuket Vegetarian Festival stands out as a unique celebration of vegetarianism and devotion amidst a culture that is known for its meat and seafood delicacies.
The Phuket Vegetarian Festival also known as the Nine Emperor Gods Festival is a rich cultural festival, held every year during the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar. This year the festival falls between 19th to 28th October. Phuket is among the oldest cities of Thailand and is popular for its beaches and a colourful culture.There stays a belief in the Chinese community that abstinence from meat, nephalism and self-control over various stimulants will bring them good health and peace of mind. The history of this festival is unclear but it is said and thought that the festival was started by a wandering Chinese Opera, who fell ill with Malaria, the 19th Century fatal illness. By following a strict vegetarian diet and offering prayers to the Nine Emperor Gods, to everyone’s surprise, the opera group recovered from the illness. To celebrate the power of prayers and the joy of survival of the group, the celebration of the festival started.
The festival sees thousands of participants and viewers flying from China and other Asian destinations. The festival holds many exciting as well as nerve wrecking ceremonies in order to please the gods. Daring acts such as fire walking, body piercing and other acts of self-mortification are performed by participants, acting as mediums of God. There is a belief amongst the community that the Chinese gods will protect such people from any harm or dangers.
The ceremonies of the festival take place around the six Chinese temples, which are scattered across Phuket. The main temple, known as Jui Tui Shrine is situated in the vicinity of the Fresh Market of the town. The first major event of the Phuket Vegetarian Festival is the Lantern Pole Raising Ceremony – Seng Ko Teng Thiao. The Lantern Pole is supposed to attract the 36,000 gods of the Chinese pantheon. All the shrines involved in the festival in Phuket raised the Lantern Pole on October 19, 2017, between 15:00 and 17:45 for all shrines except for Sheng Leng Tong (which had their ceremony at 07:09), with the exact time of the ceremony varying slightly with each other. Major shrines include the five oldest shrines in Phuket – Put Jaw, Jui Tui, Bang Niew, Cherng Talay and Kathu Shrine. Hundreds of local residents run across a bed of burning coals or climb an eight-meter ladder of sharp blades, walk-in processions through the place, in a state of trance as a part of the celebrations. Street stalls and markets around the island prepare vegetarian dishes for the participants and the audiences to indulge in. Soybean and protein substitutes are used to replace meat during the festival.
Participants are supposed to observe nine commitments through all the days of the festival. The commitments state :
As a part of the ceremonies, participants who have followed the commitments strictly, have to cross the bridge of purification set up at each shrine. After crossing the bridge they are rewarded with a stamp of commitment on their t-shirt. The last major ceremony is about bidding a farewell to the Nine Emperor Gods through a street procession.
To end the festival, each shrine shall hold a Lantern Pole Lowering ceremony between 15:00 to 17:09, this happens on the last day of the festival.
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