The Phuket Vegetarian Festival
Yesterday, the Phuket Vegetarian Festival (or the Nine Emperor Gods Festival) has come to an end. Phuket Branch Manager Gonzalo Gil Lavreda from Khiri Travel Thailand visited this colorful event.
The first time I heard about the Vegetarian Festival in Phuket I thought it was a foodie event. It was a big surprise to me when I found out that it is a long tradition that stretches back to the time of Quin and Han dynasty in China over two thousand years ago!
It starts every year on the 9th lunar month of the Chinese calendar, a date that usually falls between the end of September and early October and it lasts for nine days. During those days a multitude of events take place. Since the Vegetarian Festival’s meaning is purification and cleansing of the mind and body, a strict vegetarianism is enforced.
Perhaps more striking are the ceremonies at the numerous Chinese shrines around the island. At the altars, adorned with effigies of the Nine Emperor gods, the chosen Mah Song or spirit horses go into trance as the gods take possession and ride their bodies. The Mah Song does not feel any pain while on this state and are able to perform extraordinary feats such as walking over hot coals, walking up ladders whose steps are knives and pierce their faces and tongues with sharp objects.
The festival, processions and parades that are carried out in the old town of Phuket also have the meaning of cleansing the sins and evil and scaring bad luck and spirits away. The spirit horses are able to perform blessing to the crowd that line the street all in the customary white garment that has to be worn during the whole festival.
At 4:30 am we arrived at a shrine and watched the Mah Song going into trance, as the spirits of the gods took whole over them is an experience that has to be lived. The atmosphere was very mystical yet it all seems quiet in place, even the dramatic body piercings were carried out swiftly. Before you realize, the sun is out and the procession through town starts. Following on the steps of the Mah Song and the sedans carrying the images of the gods surrounded by the loud bang and the smoke of countless firecrackers explosions is an unforgettable experience.