Phuket Vegetarian Festival & Chinese Nine Emperor GodsBy Garry | October 13th, 2010 | Category: Regional Events & Festivals | No Comments »
Warning: Some photos in this article may be disturbing to some readers.
Thetsakan Kin Che or Tesagan Gin Je known in English as the Vegetarian Festival, is a Chinese Religious festival held annually during the 1st–9th days, 9th Chinese lunar month.
Normally, but not always, this coincides with the Sart Thai festival, though in 2010 there is a difference between the Chinese and Thai lunar calendars, leading to the event being celebrated between the 8th and 16th October, while Sart Thai was earlier. In 2009, it was held between the 18th and 26th October, therefore always check dates for any particular year if travelling to especially attend or witness the festival.
The Vegetarian Festival is celebrated throughout Thailand, but the festivities are at their height in Phuket, where about 35% of the population is Chinese. Sometimes referred to as the Nine Emperor Gods Festival (Cantonese: Kow Wong Yeh), it is a nine-day Chinese celebration observed primarily in the Southeast Asian countries of Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Riau Islands.
On the eve of the ninth moon, temples of the deities hold a ceremony to invoke and welcome the nine Emperors. Since the gods are believed to arrive on the waterways, processions are held from temples to the sea-shore or rivers to symbolize this belief. Devotees dressed in traditional white, carrying incense and candles, await the arrival of their excellencies. A carnival-like atmosphere pervades the temple throughout the nine-day festival. During this period, the constant tinkling of a prayer bell and chants from the temple priests are heard.
Most devotees stay at the temple, eat vegetarian meals and continuously chant prayers. It is commonly believed there will be rain throughout the nine days of celebration. The ninth day of the festival is its climax. A procession, which draws large numbers of devotees, sends the deities back home.
During the nine day period of the Vegetarian Festival, those who are participating dress only in white, and eat only non-animal foods (known as “je” foods). Vendors and proprietors of restaurants indicate that je food is for sale at their establishments by putting a yellow flag outside with the word je written on it in red. However, technically, only food prepared in the sacred kitchen of a Chinese temple (in Thailand, called san jao or ahm) is je, as it must undergo a series of rituals before it can be given that name.
Mah song are the people who invite the spirits of gods to possess their bodies. Mah is the word for horse in Thai, and the name mah song refers to how the spirits of the gods use the bodies of these people as a vehicle, in the same manner as riding a horse. Only pure, unmarried men or women without families of their own can become mah song. At the temple they undergo a series of rituals to protect them for the duration of the festival, during which flagellation and self-mutilation is practised. The mah song tradition doesn’t exist in China and is believed to have been adopted from the Indian festival of Thaipusam.
The festivities in Phuket include a procession of mah song wearing elaborate costumes who pierce their cheeks and tongues with all manner of objects, including swords, banners, machine guns, table lamps, and flowers. While the face is the most common area pierced, some also pierce their arms with pins and fish-hooks.
Teams of people accompany the mah song to keep their wounds clean and to help support the heavier piercings. It is believed that while they are possessed the mah song will not feel any pain. They can also be seen shaking their heads back and forth continually, and usually do not seem to “see” their surroundings.
At temples, during the festival, there is also fire-walking and blade-ladder climbing. While large crowds of people gather to watch, the entranced mah song distribute blessed candy and pieces of orange cloth with the Chinese characters for Yang printed on them for good luck.
At full moon of the 11th Thai lunar month (usually October, sometimes early November) the Vegetarian Festival is also celebrated in Trang Province, Again, Thais of Chinese heritage become a vegetarian (avoiding consumption of all animal flesh and certain kinds of vegetables) and dress in white for the 9 days and nights. This is to bring good fortune and make merit.
Throughout the festival, spirits inhabit human “mediums” who go out and give blessing (some call it touring) to households where offerings set-out in front.
The procession accompanying the medium must light thousands of firecrackers, creating a deafening noise. The medium also performs “supernatural” feats to show that the spirit is in him.
For more information :
Tourism Authority of Thailand, Phuket office +66 76 211036, +66 76 212213
TAT Trang Office, Tel : 66 (0) 7521 5867, 7521 1058, 7521 1085
Trang Tourism Coordination Centre, Tel. 66 (0) 7521 5867-8
Trang Chamber of Commerce, Tel. 66 (0) 2545 3322