If you are looking for the most unique and colorful cultural experiences to be found in Phuket, you’re going to want to check out the Phuket Vegetarian Festival. Also known as the Nine Emperor Gods Festival, this nine-day celebration takes place every year in the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar, and will take place from October 15-23 this year. It is the most important event for the local Chinese-Thai community, who believe that abstaining from meat, alcohol, sex, and other stimulants during this period will purify their body and mind, and bring them good health and fortune.
Fair warning: the Phuket Vegetarian Festival is not for the faint-hearted, as it involves some extreme rituals and practices that are meant to show devotion and gratitude to the gods. These rituals are shocking to some, but certainly an intriguing display of dedication. They come in the form of self-mutilation acts performed by the mediums who pierce their cheeks, tongues, and other body parts with all sorts of random objects such as knives, swords, skewers, umbrellas, and even bicycles. These mediums are believed to be possessed by the spirits of the gods, and they reportedly don’t feel any pain or bleed during the process, however, you will certainly see blood. They also display other feats of endurance, such as walking on hot coals, climbing ladders made of blades, or slashing their skin with axes.
The festival also features extravagant and raucous street processions, where the mediums and other devotees dressed in white parade throughout the island, especially Old Town, accompanied by firecrackers, drums, and gongs. They stop at various shrines and temples along the way to pay respect and receive blessings from the gods. Devotees also set up tables with food offerings like fruits, cakes, and vegetarian dishes to welcome the procession and seek good luck.
No celebration in Thailand is complete without mentioning the food of course. The vegetarian food is certainly one of the highlights of the festival for many. You can find a wide variety of delicious and creative dishes made from tofu, soy, and other meat substitutes. In general, around Thailand, vegetarian restaurants and stalls are always marked by yellow and red signs or flags and when you see these during the period of the festival, they will be serving nothing but vegetarian dishes.
The Phuket Vegetarian Festival dates back to the 19th century when a Chinese opera troupe came to the island and fell ill with malaria. The story goes that they decided to follow the tradition of their ancestors and observe a strict vegetarian diet and pray to the Nine Emperor Gods, who are the sons of the Supreme Deity of Taoism. They recovered from the disease and attributed their miraculous healing to the gods. Since then, the festival has been celebrated every year by the people of Phuket who have added their own local elements to the original Chinese practice.
The Phuket Vegetarian Festival is without a doubt one of the most unique and remarkable celebrations that showcases the rich and diverse culture of Phuket. For anyone who hasn’t witnessed the festival, it’s highly recommended. It’s also worth noting that guests should be sure to respect the rules and customs of the festival and enjoy the sights, sounds, and tastes of this amazing event.