Photo by Stephan Audiger
It’s a cracker of a draw, Phuket’s Vegetarian Festival. While many people flock to Phuket’s annual veggie festival to join in the firework throwing, to witness the festival’s many devotees marching through the provincial capital and of course to sample the many colourful and tasty dishes served up, other unsuspecting visitors caught in the middle of this nine-day event could be forgiven for thinking that an army of bloodthirsty aliens in butchers’ aprons has landed on the island.
Photos by Stephan Audiger
Some appreciate the religious devotion and sacrifice in the sometimes bizarre demonstrations of spiritual zealotry; others find it a messy, noisy affair that confuses rather than edifies the soul.
The origins of this colourful festival are obscured in a shadowy mixture of fact and fiction. According to local legend it all started about 150 years ago in the central Kathu district of the island, where the majority of the Chinese tin mine workers was living. They represented such a large proportion of the community that to compensate them for their gruelling work a group of Chinese opera performers were brought to entertain them and their families each year during the ninth lunar month in the Chinese calendar. On one occasion during the course of these performances, Phuket was hit by an epidemic which resulted in the loss of many lives, including some of the performers themselves.
According to local folklore, one particularly spiritually aware member of the community gently pointed out that the immigrants had neglected to pay homage to the Nine Emperor Gods (Kiuthis Ong Iah) during the first nine days of the month.
Consequently one of the performers was sent to China to invite a representative of the deity to Phuket.
Photo from www.phuketvegetarian.com
Under his instructions, the following year the Chinese refrained from eating meat, drinking alcoholic drinks, engaging in intercourse, avoided quarreling amongst themselves, telling lies, or pursuing the unsavoury but sometimes lucrative pastime of murdering each other. Allegedly, the epidemic did not recur and, every year since, the people of Phuket have continued to celebrate the festival with enthusiasm.
While some local Vegetarian Festival-goers are merely there for the food, others are drawn to the processions of devotees, some parading in the strangest manner, pierced by objects such as fire hydrant hoses, bicycle spokes and every household object except the family cat, although there are – as yet – no rules excluding feline participation. Piercing is generally in the facial region, such as the cheeks, tongues and ears. Many devotees state that they feel no pain and indeed have no after scars, or sign of injury. Still, doctors at local hospitals remain strangely mute when asked about the extent of permanent injuries. That, it would seem – is that.
Still, it is a brilliant spectacle and one that is definitely worth coming to the island for – although it is best to book accommodation and airline tickets ahead of time as demand can be heavy, even though the festival takes place during the Southwest monsoon season.
This year the Vegetarian Festival runs from 28 September to 7 October. Go vegetarian! It is said that if you eat only one vegetarian meal during the festival, you save the lives of many chickens, cows, pigs, sheep, fish...
|Schedule for Vegetarian Festival parades|
|Saturday, Oct 1||Sapam Shrine|
|Sunday, Oct2||Samkong Shrine|
|Monday, Oct 3||Ban Tha Rve Shrine|
|Tuesday, Oct 4||Bang Neow Shrine|
|Cherng Thalay Shrine|
|Wednesday, Oct 5||Jui Tui Shrine|
|Thursday, Oct 6||Kathu Shrine|
|Friday, Oct 7||Sui Boon Tong Shrine|
If you decide to participate wholeheartedly in this festival, here are some precepts to follow: