What you need to know about the famous Phuket Vegetarian Festival

by Dean on May 15, 2016

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Love your vegetables? Great – me too! You’re just going to love the Phuket Vegetarian Festival! I recently spent the nine-day period there in October and enjoyed the celebration held to commemorate the Chinese belief that abstaining from meat and other stimulants during the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar is great for achieving good health and a great overall peace of mind. After taking part in the festival, I was certainly more calm and clear headed – and it was a great way to explore a side of the culture in Phuket that I hadn’t experienced before. Take a look at this great guide from Travezl to get the most out of your trip to Phuket.

The Phuket vegetarian festival is held over a 9-day period in October and while the origins of this wonderful vegetable based festival are unclear, it is widely believed that the festival was brought to Phuket in the 1800s by – funnily enough – a Chinese opera group who fell ill with malaria while they were scheduled to perform on the island!

To combat their malarial illness, the Chinese opera group decided that their only hope was to stick to a strict vegetarian diet and offer prayers to the Nine Emperor Gods. They hoped that this diet and regime would ensure the purification of their minds and of their bodies. Much to everyone’s amazement, the group made a complete recovery! The local people celebrated this miracle by holding a festival to honour the Gods and to show their happiness for the group surviving what was – in the 19th century – sure to be a fatal illness. To this day, the festival has grown substantially and is now attended by thousands of people with participants flying in from all over the world .

Watch out, weak stomachs!

There are a number of Ceremonies that are undertaken during the vegetarian festival – and some of these ceremonies can be quite gruesome as they are held to invoke the gods. Some of the ceremonies include fire walking, body piercing, and other kinds of self mutilation and mortification which are undertaken by people who are acting as conduits of the Gods. As the years go on in the festival, the act of joining with the gods have become more and more daring. Both men and women are known to puncture their cheeks with knives, skewers, and other ordinary household items. The festival-goers believe that the Chinese Gods will protect those who undertake such acts, and believe that little blood or scarring will result from their mutilation. This is not usually the case, and the faint-of-heart should be aware of such ceremonies!

Fire walking Phuket Vegetarian Festival

Kick things off with a Lantern

Ceremonies for the festival take place in one of the six Chinese temples located throughout Phuket. The main Temple is not far from the Fresh Market in Phuket Town. The first event that is held for the Vegetarian Festival is the raising of the Lantern Pole. This is an act that notifies the Chinese Gods that the festival is about to begin. The pole is not a small item – it stands at 10 metres tall. Once it is raised, celebrants believe that the Hindu God Shiva brings spiritual power to this effect

What next?

Over the next days of the festival, the local community will bring along their own household Gods to the temple, along with offerings of foods and drinks. It is believed that household Gods benefit from an annual injection of spiritual energy and so people bring in their deities to be recharged and revitalised.

And what about the food?

There will be street processions which take place as part of the festival, and visitors to the Phuket vegetarian festival may see participants walking along as if in a trance. This is related to the religious fervour of the event. Many of the events that you may see can include people running across burning coals or climbing ladders of sharp blades. Aside from the visual spectacle of this incredible festival, visitors can enjoy special vegetarian cuisine at the many street stalls and markets around the island.

Photos by Phuket@photographer.net on Flickr

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