Phuket Vegetarian Festival - Experience the Nine Gods Festival

Locally referred to as the Kin Jay Festival, the Phuket Vegetarian Festival is a festival of the Nine Emperor Gods festival in Phuket. An annual event, the vegetarian festival is a misnomer and is primarily celebrated by the Chinese communities in Thailand. It goes on for nine days and is considered to be one of the most bizarre and extreme festivals in the country. Devotees usually give up meat for these nine days, while some even pierce their cheeks with swords, climb ladders made with knife blades and walk on hot coals to show their devotion to the nine emperor gods.

Participate in the Phuket Vegetarian Festival 2019 - Dates

The festival starts on the first day of the 9th Chinese lunar month.
It usually takes place in the vicinity of the six scattered Chinese temples throughout Phuket.
2019 Dates - 29th September to 7th October.

Witness the Festival - Venue

Jui Tui Shrine is the main temple for this festival and is situated close to the Fresh Market in the Phuket Town.

Culture of the Phuket Veg Festivities

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According to the locals, this festival is a way of making the gods happy. Also, they feel that abstaining from anything which is not pure for these nine days will help them to lead a happy and healthy life for the next whole year. 

Traditions and Rituals

Phuket Vegetarian Festival is not at all sober in any way. It is lively, full of devotees and loud and chaotic. The festival begins with a ten-metre-tall Lantern Pole erected at a significant place. This Pole is believed to notify the Chinese Gods concerning the beginning of the festivities. The revellers also believe that Lord Shiva, the Hindu God, descends to bring spiritual powers to the event. Mah songs – who are considered to be the forever unmarried people – pierce their cheeks with large spears and hooks. Some of them also carry out processions while throwing firecrackers and chanting mantras. Also, a special lion dance is performed in the crowd. The locals distribute orange clothes and papers among the group, which they believe are for good luck.

Rules of the Phuket Vegetarian Festival

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  • The local Chinese and Thai communities bring their household deities to the temple during this festival and offer them food and drinks. They believe that doing so will help their household gods to get an annual dose of spiritual power which will benefit the people living the house throughout the year.
  • During this festival, the devotees are expected to abstain from meat, alcohol, sex, healthy foods like onion and garlic, wear white and keep pure thoughts in mind.
  • Pregnant and menstruating women, and also the ones who are mourning, are not supposed to be a part of this festival ceremonies.
  • All the participating food joints usually fly a yellow flag with some red Chinese sayings, which are believed to attract good luck.
  • All restaurants are usually closed during these nine days, and only a few select food kiosks operate for the visitors at the marketplaces.
  • The famous Thai noodle dishes are prepared without even a trace of fish sauce and meat. The vegetarian food which is available in the markets during this festival looks identical to chicken and pork; however, they are vegetarian. Even the usage of dairy products and eggs are prohibited during this time.
  • During this festival, the devotees only wear white dresses as they feel that it’s the purest colour of all. 

The Backstory of the Festival

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Although the exact origin of this festival is yet not known, the locals believe that it was brought to Thailand by a group of Chinese opera artists in 1825. Due to a malaria epidemic, the community decided to adopt a strict vegetarian diet which praying relentlessly to the Nine Emperor Gods to ensure total purification of their mind and body. And to everyone’s wonder, the opera group made a full recovery within a few days. The group celebrated their improvement with a unique festival to honour the Gods and to express their happiness at surviving as Malaria was a fatal illness in the 19th Century. Since then, the Chinese locals of Thailand started celebrating this festival annually, and today, people from all around the globe visit Phuket to be a part of this festivity.

Tourist Tips 

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  • Phuket Vegetarian Festival is all about extremities. Hence, it’s better not to take children along. You can take part in the processions and walk along with the devotees in a trance.
  • While enjoying the festivities, do not forget to gorge on the delicious festival special vegetarian delicacies that will be readily available in all the restaurants and food stalls.
  • In case you are not able to reach the Jui Tui Shrine in Phuket which is the main temple for the festival, you can experience the celebrations at other shrines namely, Phut Jaw, Bang Niew, Kathu, and Cherng Talay.
  • The peak celebrations happen on the ninth and the final day of the festival when all the devotees carry out a farewell frenzy for sending all the nine Gods back home.
So, in case you were planning a trip to Thailand this year, you can club your beach holiday with a few days in Phuket during this festival to observe a different kind of atmosphere. The celebrations are indeed a bit frightening for most, but the fact remains that it will show you a different side of the otherwise funny and chirpy Thai locals which you probably shouldn’t miss as a traveller.  It usually takes place in the vicinity of the six scattered Chinese temples throughout Phuket.

This post was published by Anuradha Chakraborty

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