Updated: Jan 11
This year, the Phuket Vegetarian Festival 2023 will be held for 10 days from 15 Oct - 25 Oct. As an annual tradition, Luca Dotti - HOMA’s Founder, will lead HOMA staff to pay respects at Samkong Shrine to show our support by cleaning the shrine in preparation for the festive period.
Each year, the Vegetarian Festival (เทศกาลกินเจ) falls on the 1st to the 9th night of the 9th lunar month of the Chinese calendar. It is considered one of the most important festivals in Phuket with thousands of devotees taking part in the rituals as well as maintaining a strict diet. Let’s learn more about its roots and rituals.
Phuket Vegetarian Festival - A brief history
While there have been many versions of its history, the most common story of this traditional ceremony dates back to the 1800s when the island absorbed a significant number of Hokkien refugees immigrating from Fujian province who were escaping political turmoil and the Chinese famine. Among those who came to Phuket Town was a group of Chinese entertainers who were supposed to perform an opera show. Mysteriously, many members of the cast became seriously ill. To purify their minds and bodies, the crew members went on a strict vegan diet for 9 days and 9 nights while praying to the 9 Emperor Gods. Soon after, the crew members miraculously recovered and came together to thank and celebrate the 9 Emperor Gods by hosting a festival in their honor. This then kickstarted what is Phuket’s largest annual festival today with celebrations being held at several shrines throughout the island.
Phuket Vegetarian Festival 2022
The Vegetarian Festival, also known among the locals as “Jia Chai” is a traditional practice of Taoism that is not just about challenging yourselves to a strict vegan diet but is also filled with beliefs, spirits, and rituals. The traditional rituals practiced by the Chinese since the olden days include the worshipping of Gods, Angels, and Heroes.
Back in 2018, the Ministry of Culture recorded the Vegetarian Festival as an Intangible Cultural Heritage in the category of Social Practice, Ritual, Tradition, and Festival of Intangible Cultural Heritage. The annual festival on the 26th of September 2022 marks a special celebration to commemorate 111 years of the ‘Ew Geng’ ceremony of the Buddha statue parade around Jui Tui Shrine starting from 7 PM.
Rituals of the Vegetarian Festival
The Fire-walking Ritual
The Chinese believe that “Fire overcomes impurity and repels evil influence.” As men purify themselves with fire, they are making amends for their sins and thus, overcoming Yin. While playing with fire is seen as a dangerous encounter for many, the devotees believe that those who are cleansed and purified will be void of being burnt.
The Ceremonial Bridge - Crossing Ritual
For those who believe that they have sinned and wish to cleanse, to repent - they must prepare a paper cutout of themselves with a monetary offering at their discretion when crossing the bridge. The idea for devotees is that crossing the bridge resembles a fresh start in life and that their past impurities will be cleansed. Once crossed, a red stamp of the Nine Emperor Gods’ will be sealed on the back of the devotees to signify that they are free from sins and calamities.
The Farewell Ritual
On the evening of the 9th and last day, the vegetarian festivities come to a close with a sending-off in a farewell ritual for the Jade Emperor and the Nine Emperor Gods starting at 10.30 PM. During this ritual, locals will fill up the streets of Phuket Town waiting to send the God ‘Kiu Ong’ back to heaven. Once the Gods are sent through the doors, all lights within the shrines must be switched off to complete darkness and all doors must be closed.
💡 Tip: This ceremony is a must-see, especially around Thalang Road, Phuket Road, Surin Circle Clock Tower, and the road leading to Sapan Hin. (see map below)
What to expect during the festival
Among the devotees who join the festival are the ‘Spirit Mediums’ - commonly known as ‘Ma Song’ (ม้าทรง) meaning the horse of the gods. They are the ones believed to be carrying the gods throughout the festival via body possession. The mediums who are chosen by their purity would perform self-mutilating stunts by piecing their tongues and cheeks with sharp objects. With such risky acts, it is important that they have crew members carefully taking care of them during the parade at all times. Below is a video of the Phuket Vegetarian Festival from 2021 by Signature of Phuket.
Rules to follow for the Vegetarian Festival in Phuket
For those who wish to join the festival, we’d like to introduce a few rules and regulations for you to follow during this festive period;
Maintain hygiene and cleanliness of the body and mind throughout the festival
Make sure all kitchen utensils are cleaned and separate from those who are not participating in the event
Dress up in white attire when attending the festival
Please be respectful
Avoid the consumption of products involving animals such as meat, eggs, and honey
Avoid having sex during the festival period
Avoid the consumption of alcoholic drinks during the festival period
It is recommended that people who are in a grieving period should not attend the festival
Pregnant women are recommended against attending the festival due to loud noises and fireworks
Women who are in their menstrual cycle are advised to not participate in the festival
Stay close to the action at HOMA Phuket Town
If you're interested in participating in the festivities, we recommend you to stay with us at HOMA Phuket Town. Our property is located within a 5-minute walk to Samkong Shrine (Lim Hu Tai Su Shrine) where many vegetarian food vendors spring up to life. Additionally, HOMA is also located within a 10-mins drive to Jui Tui Shrine, one of the oldest and most important on Phuket Island.
Source: GoPhuket.net, Tourism Authority of Thailand, Phuket News, Hotels.com