Phuket Vegetarian Festival | Documentary Video
The annual Phuket Vegetarian Festival occurs on the ninth month of the Chinese lunar calendar (often, around October) and spans nine days, where participants – usually of Chinese ancestry- undergo a strict vegetarian diet during the period. Various gory spectacles, perilous events and parades taking place, from sword piercings, fire walking, etc… This is one of the most eclectic and fascinating festivals in Thailand.
Although the vegetarian festival is held nationwide throughout Thailand, Phuket Town is the place that the festival culminates with spectacles and feats.
Phuket Vegetarian Festival Rituals and Practices
Practitioners must dress in white during the entire period and undergo a strict vegetarian diet, refraining from the eating or killing of animals for meat. One must maintain a clean body and mind during this time, with no sex, drugs or alcohol. Those who should not attend are those in mourning, women undergoing menstruation or pregnancy. The belief is that a purified diet will not only help with better health, but will also strengthen their inner peace and focus on the gods.
During this time, mediums called mar song, go into trance to channel their deities (one of the Nine Emperor Gods). This is to showcase their gods’ power and absorb the evils of fellow devotee/followers to rid them of bad luck. The belief is that if one’s faith in his/her gods are strong, the god will protect them from harm. Thus, there are many dangerous performances, from climbing bladed ladders, sword piercings and fire walking, which shows their test of faith.
Aside from what many think, not all mediums are trained beforehand. Some take on the role of mar song simply through faith alone. Thus, these events carry a level of danger and risk.
There are over 40 temples in Phuket but only a handful of temples (shrines) are chosen to hold events. The holiest temple is the Kathu shrine in Kathu village (2km from central Phuket town), which is where the vegetarian festival is said to have originated. It’s said that many locals aren’t even allowed to enter the main temple to see what is at the heart.
Final Celebration is the Essence: Parade through Fireworks
The festival culminates in a final fireworks-walking parade.
If you Google this festival, you’ll find grotesque images of sword piercings. It’s as if the most dramatic and grotesque feat is the festival’s main headlining event. It’s easy to forget what this festival is really about and what its devotees seek to accomplish during this period.
Like every traveler, I hoped to attend the gory events for the sheer spectacle, but I was staying with a friend, quite further from the town and couldn’t make it out on those days. The last day however, sheer advised as the being the most essential celebration and the most visual. The last day offers many events versus one. The advice was right.
From afternoon to evening, the rituals and celebration leading to the parade is full of devotee worship, prayer and merit making. There are many mar song personifying different deities, gods and goddesses, enacting cleansing rituals, which absorb the evils of their devotees and dispel them away.
Each medium personifies a character of their god, which they relate to the best.
Although the parade is the least goriest of events, a potential of danger still exists for mediums, float carriers and guards exist. These people are often targets of intense firework playing. They walk barefoot through the streets as onlookers intentionally throw fireworks at them and the floats, in an attempt to test their god’s power. Sometimes, the fireworks hit local onlookers too!
At the parade’s final destination, the gods and goddesses attend their posts by praying devotees. Meanwhile, the guards and float carriers are all sooty from the smoke and fire cracker sparks. The celebration ends with a grand finale of lighting floats ablaze and shooting fireworks. The entire area looks like a war-torn battle field of smoke.
It’s a Thai festival that you won’t want to miss!
Vegetarian food in Thailand
Thailand is no stranger to the vegetarian diet. It has a large vegetarian community, stemming from strict Buddhist monk diets. However, this festival makes it easy for vegetarians to easily find foods for their diets and for newcomers, to taste a variety of Thai vegetarian food. Restaurants, food establishments and hawkers put out yellow flags with the wordเจ (jeh) , signaling vegetarian food being sold there. Restaurants and establishments which serve vegetarian food, Foods range from fruits and vegetable to mock meats, made from soy or protein substitutes. Costs are similar to regular Thai street foods.
Things to Know Before you Go to the parade
Dress in all white
To respect the tradition, whether or not you are actively participating in the vegetarian diet, wear white. Most people entering festival grounds are wearing white.
Take ear plugs
The fireworks are loud and a lot, so I fully recommend taking ear plugs. Some vendors sell them there. Do yourself a favor and buy them.
Bring a face mask or scarf to cover your nose and mouth
The fireworks are strong, loud and there is no regulation for usage, especially during the parades. There will be a lot of fireworks and smoke (see my video).
The Thai throw these fireworks everywhere and some trickster teens throw them at others for fun. You may also get errant fireworks that stray. Sometimes, you can get hit.
Where to stay
Here’s a listing of Phuket accommodations in Phuket Town (central Phuket)
Phuket Vegetarian Festival (website)
Schedule of events : http://www.phuketvegetarian.com/