According to the Tourist Authority, this is the history of the Vegetarian
Festival in Phuket:
"Phuket's Vegetarian festival (or jia chai in
local Hokkien Chinese dialect) began in 1825, when the governor of Thalang,
Praya Jerm, moved the island's principal town from Ta Reua in Thalang District
to Get-Hoein Kathu District, where were tin mines and Chinese miners.
Kathu was then still covered by jungle and fever was rife. It happened
that a traveling opera company (called ngiu in Thai, or pua-hee in
Hokkien dialect) came from China to perform for the miners.
When the whole company grew sick from an unnamed malady, they
kept to a vegetarian diet to honor two of the emperor gods, Kiew Ong Tai Teh
and Yok Ong Song Teh. The sickness afflicting the opera troupe the
disappeared. This greatly interested the people of Kathu, who asked how it
was done. The answer came that ritual vegetarianism with its attendant
ceremonies had been the cause, with the result that people embraced the faith
enthusiastically. Thus the festival began: starting the first evening of
the ninth lunar month, it continued until the ninth evening; the aim was to
bring good luck to individuals as well as to the community.
It later happened that one familiar with the festival
volunteered to return to kansai, in China, where he invited the sacred Hiao
Ho-Le or Hiao Ian (incense smoke) and Lian Tiu (name plaques)
which have the status of gods, to come to stay in Kathu. He also brought holy
writings used in the ceremonies, returning to Phuket on the seventh night of the
ninth month. The people upon hearing of his arrival, went in procession to
Bang Niao pier to bring him and his sacred cargo back. This was the origin
of the processions that figure so greatly in the festival.
The afternoon before the festival begins, a great pole at each
temple is raised, called the Go Teng pole, with which the gods are invited to
descend. At midnight the pole is hung with nine lanterns, signalizing the
opening of the fest. Two important gods are also invited down at midnight
to preside over ceremonies; these are Yok Ong Hong Tae and Kiew Ong
Aside from this, there are other ceremonies throughout the
fest, notably the invocation of the gods Lam Tao, who keep
Ma Song, or entranced horses, are devotees whom the gods enter
during the fest. They manifest supernatural powers and perform
self-tortures in order to shift evil from individuals onto themselves, and to
bring the community good luck. Ma Song fall into two categories: those
who, having had an intimation of impending doom, want to extend their lives; and
people specially chosen by the gods for their moral qualities.
Throughout the festival fireworks and drums are sounded,
especially during ceremonies. It is held that the louder they are the
better, because the noise drives away evil spirits.
Participants in the fest keep to a strict vegetarian diet for
a varying number of days, usually no less than three. This they do to make
themselves strong in mind and body; they refrain from all vice, eating animal
flesh and killing animals. The festival thus promotes hygiene, brightness,
and inner peace"
| Many men, shaking their
heads in an apparent trance, performed their rituals, and one by one they
walked (or ran, skipped, or hopped) over the 15'-wide bed of coals. It
was a fascinating display witnessed by hundreds of Thais and tourists, many dressed
completely in white as dictated by the guidelines for participating in
|Men of all ages climbed a 16-rung ladder
with steps lined with sharp blades, often bouncing on each rung to
accentuate the pain.
All seemed to be in a trance, and finished the
ritual with a mock slaying of something with axes or hatchets.
|Procession of the 9 Emperor
gods through the streets of Phuket among the sounds of at least 1
million firecrackers. Audience
participation was the word of the day as hundreds of the onlookers threw
hundreds of packets of firecrackers at the marchers where they exploded around their
heads, bare feet, or other unpredictable places. The objective seemed
to be to scare away evil
spirits or help raise the people to heaven, depending on who we asked.
Many wound long strings of firecrackers on poles, and held them over the
heads of the marchers, unwrapping them as they exploded. It was the
most intense blitz of fireworks we have ever witnessed.
|Acts of self- torture by
participants in trances.
pictures are graphic and may be disturbing to some.
- Cleaniless of bodies during the festival
- Clean kitchen utensils and to use them separately
from those who do not join the festival
white during the festival
- Behave physically and mentally
- No meat eating
- No sex
- No alcoholic drinks
- People in mourning should not attend
- Pregnant ladies should not watch any ritual
- Ladies experiencing menstruation should not attend