Phuket Vegetarian Festival will begin on Sunday, September 29 and ends on Monday, October 7
While, the devout in India observe a nine-day-long fast eating only vegetarian food during the holy Navratri festival, in Thailand, people celebrate the Nine Emperor Gods Festival, more commonly known as the Thai Vegetarian Festival or as the locals call it “Jay” Festival.
This vegetarian-only festival of Thailand is a Taoist celebration celebrated on the eve of the 9th month of the Chinese lunar calendar, largely by the people of Chinese origin and even those who aren’t of Chinese descent. The festival is celebrated in many Southeast Asian countries, such as Malaysia, Myanmar, Indonesia and Thailand, by local Chinese communities.
The Thai Vegetarian Festival is one of the most respected festivals of Thailand that sees Thailand turn vegan for nine days, with the most colorful festivities taking place in the city of Phuket.The story behind how this festival came to be started from the story of a wandering Chinese group who fell ill with malaria in Phuket. To overcome the illness they switched to a strict vegetarian diet The group made a full recovery and the tradition has continued ever since.
Today the Ceremonies take place around Phuket’s six Chinese temples, with the main temple being Jui Tui Shrine near the Fresh Market in Phuket Town. Participating locals will head to these temples with offerings, which are believed to fuel the festival’s spiritual energy.
Strict participants should obey a set of 10 rules, though many simply change their diet:
- Do not kill animals
- Do not eat meat or animal products
- Do not steal
- Do not harm others physically or mentally
- Do not tell lies or swear
- Do not flirt or touch people of the opposite sex
- Do not drink alcohol or take drugs
- Do not gamble
- Do not wear ornaments, including those made of metal or leather
- Do not share utensils, cutlery or food with those who are not obeying the 10 rules
Other guidelines include wearing white for the duration of the festival, and menstruating and pregnant women should not participate.
Although it may be referred to as Vegetarian Festival, the food sold and consumed is vegan. During these nine days, participants abstain from eating meat, poultry, seafood and dairy products, as well as pungent vegetables, such as onion and garlic. The belief is that by abstaining from these types of food, participants will obtain good health and peace of mind. Vendors and restaurants all over Thailand participate by switching to “jay” food, using yellow flags with red Thai or Chinese characters to signal their participation.
There is an art of “jay” food is that many of the dishes look and taste like meat. To achieve this, soybean and protein substitutes are used to replace meat and are shaped to look like the animal products they represent, often with a cartoon-like aesthetic.
However, this vegan festival is a little more extreme than just switching from pork to tofu. Phuket’s Vegetarian Festival is not for the fainthearted. During this time some participants called “Masong”, are people that invite spirits of the gods to possess their bodies. These people will go through a trance-like state and can be seen acting out gruesome rituals, these include piercing of body parts, walking across hot coals and climbing blade-ladders. It’s believed that during this state, they do not feel pain and will be protected from scarring by the spirits.
As the festival draws to a close, those who followed the strict 10 rules can go to a temple to cross a “Bridge of Purification” and a huge street procession sees all the shrines come together to say farewell to the spirits.
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