The Phuket Vegetarian Festival
The Origins of the Phuket Vegetarian Festival
This annual festival is the most colourful, dramatic and surprising celebration of the Chinese Thai majority in Phuket. It takes place during the first 9 days of the 9th lunar month of the Chinese calendar, so generally at the end of September, beginning of October.
The "Phuket Vegetarian Festival" in Thailand is getting bolder every year. To invoke the gods, participants walk on the fire, tattoo and pierce each other's bodies with all kinds of objects. Sensitive souls refrain....
In Phuket, participants in the Taoist vegetarian festival mutilate themselves to test their faith
Surprising: Tourists are amazed: a bloody procession of pierced bodies has taken possession of Phuket to celebrate a unique Taoist festival. Every morning, hundreds of mutilated devotees march through the seaside resort, better known for its idyllic beaches on the Andaman Sea (South) than for the extravagant carnival of these "piercing" enthusiasts.
Men, women and teenagers are like in a trance. Everything is good for them to pierce their flesh: needles, razors, swords, but also umbrellas, antennas, scrap metal in an ever more delirious bid every year.
Their colourful and noisy parades are supposed to frighten evil spirits and please the Chinese deities. They mark the Taoist Vegetarian Festival, which lasts nine days before the ninth lunar month in the fall, and is accompanied by fasting, meditation and offerings. This festival is traditionally celebrated in Chinese communities around the world.
Taoism is based on the teachings of the Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu (6th century BC), but it has also given rise to magical-religious rites, one of the most extreme expressions of which takes shape in Phuket.
The Phuket Vegetarian Festival has its roots in a local legend.
The Vegetarian Festival began 150 years ago in the Kathu district of Phuket, where the majority of Chinese tin mine workers were stationed. They formed a large community for which a group of Chinese opera singers was hired to entertain them and their families. During the ninth Chinese lunar month, Phuket was struck by an epidemic of a deadly disease and caused the loss of many lives. Chinese artists have also fallen ill.
Finally, they realized that they had forgotten to pay tribute to the Emperor of the Nine Gods (Kiu Ong IAH) during the first nine days of the month. For example, one of the interpreters was sent to China to invite the Kiu Ong IAH to Phuket.
The following year, the Chinese followed the tradition of refraining from eating meat, drinking alcoholic beverages, having sex, quarreling, telling lies or killing. The epidemic ended, and every year since then, the people of Phuket have continued to celebrate the festival.
The Chinese believe that great credit is due by inviting the nine gods of the Vegetarian Festival to come to earth to pay tribute to them and receive their blessings and remedies in exchange, and then celebrating their return home with a stunning ceremony.
The goal is to purify the body and mind, to demonstrate the strength of one's Faith. During this period, fervent Chinese Buddhists wear white ceremonial clothing, do not eat meat, eggs, milk, fish, garlic or spices. They avoid sex, gambling, swearing, killing animals, drinking alcohol and tobacco, and wearing jewellery.
Amazing feats are performed by participants in trance or possessed by spirits. They walk on burning coals, pierce the tender parts of their bodies with sharp or thorny instruments, climb barefoot on ladders made of knife blades, and generally do things that would kill or seriously injure any normal person.
All this without any apparent suffering, bleeding or other disastrous consequences.
This staggering spectacle is naturally not recommended for sensitive people, because it is performed by ordinary citizens and not by actors. On the morning of the last day of the Vegetarian Festival, the meticulously elaborated dances of the dragon and the lion take place, interspersed with hallucinating acts of self-mortification in front of the clock in the centre of Phuket-Ville. This frenzy lasts until the evening, when thousands of people block the streets of Phuket and trigger a string of firecrackers to wish a last and loud farewell to the gods.
Today, it is mutilation that prevails. According to the Tao tradition, pain experiences the faith of Taoist believers and purifies their souls and bodies. Their sacrifice allows them to gain the good graces of the gods.
"They may be devout, but they are there first to give a show," says Jinakul, a Chinese businessman, indignant at the sight of a young man whose bloody cheek lets a leafy shrub gush out...
Like many islanders, Jinakul believes that the vegetarian festival has lost its original spirituality to degenerate into an unhealthy competition between the faithful.
Tourists, on the other hand, are divided between repulsion and fascination. "A primitive demonstration, certainly, but I liked it," confessed an American, who had just arrived in Phuket.
The faithful make a station in front of the altar of a Chinese shop where offerings are stored: votive papers, incense sticks, fruits, flowers, candles... And skewer them on the objects that come out of their bodies.
« I offer offerings to the gods every year » explains the merchant, « it brings me luck. He is not a fan of "piercing", but recognizes that "it's good for business » .