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Raising the lantern pole at the Jui Tui Shrine means ceremonies have begun

Phuket Vegetarian Festival Cleanses the Body, Invigorates Soul

Tuesday, October 13, 2015
PHUKET: The Phuket Vegetarian Festival is an annual event held during the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar.

Followers believe that the vegetarian festival and its accompanying sacred rituals bestow good fortune upon those individuals who religiously observe the rites as well as the wider community.

During the festival, local residents of Chinese ancestry strictly observe a 10-day vegetarian or vegan diet for the purposes of spiritual cleansing and merit-making.

Sacred rituals are performed at various Chinese shrines and temples and aesthetic displays such as walking barefooted over hot coals and ascending ladders with bladed rungs are performed by entranced devotees known as "Ma Song''.

Ma Song, or entranced horses, are devotees whom the gods enter during the festival.

Devotees manifest supernatural powers and perform self-tortures in order to shift evil from individuals onto themselves and to bring good luck to the community.

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. The louder the drums, the better, because the noise drives away evil spirits.

Phuket's Vegetarian festival began in 1825, when the Govenor of Thalang moved the island's main town from Ta Reua,in Thalang District, to Get-Hoe in Kathu District.

At that time, a large number of Chinese people worked at the tin mine in Kathu and the area was largely covered by jungle and fever was rife.

A traveling opera company came from China to perform for the miners. Soon the whole opera company grew sick from an unnamed malady and they decided to adopt a strict vegetarian diet to honor two of the emperor gods, Kiew Ong Tai Teh and Yok Ong Sone Teh.

The sickness afflicting the opera troupe soon disappeared.

The people of Kathu were amazed at the groups recovery and asked how it was done. They were told the ritual vegetarianism and attendant ceremonies had been the apparent cure.

People embraced the faith enthusiastically and the annual festival began from that time.

Later, a man familiar with the festival volunteered to return to Kansai, in China, where he invited the sacred Hiao Ho-le or Hiao lan (incense smoke) and Lian Tui (name plaques), which have the status of gods, to come stay in Kathu.

He returned to Phuket on the seventh night of the ninth month, bringing back holy writings for use in the ceremonies.

Hearing of his arrival, the people 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, signaling the opening of the festival. Two important gods, Yok Ong Hong Tae and Kiew Ong Tai Tae, are also invited down at midnight to preside over ceremonies.

Other ceremonies also occur throughout the festival, including:

- the invocation of the gods Lam Tao (who keeps track of the living) and Pak Tao (who keeps track of the dead)

- processions of the gods' images

- feats of the Ma Song (self-mortification, piercing and bathing in hot oil)

- bladed ladder climbing

- fire-walking

The festival ends with ceremonies at each temple and the send-off of the gods on the last night.

10 RULES FOR THE VEGETARIAN FESTIVAL

1. Cleanliness of bodies during the festival

2. Clean kitchen utensils and to use them separately from other who do not join the festival

3. Wear white during the festival

4. Behave physically and mentally

5. No meat eating

6. No sex

7. No alcoholic drinks

8. People at mourning period should not attend the festival

9. Pregnant ladies should not watch any ritual

10. Ladies with period should not attend the ritual

Wednesday October 14


The Street Procession Ritual Yiao Keng, Choor Su Gong Naka Shrine (8am)

Worshipping Ritual for the Deceased Devotees Pai Lau Chai Yew, Jui Tui Shrine (9.09am)

Heavenly Warriors Food Offering Ritual Kho Kun, 3pm - 3.45pm (repeated each day)

Street Processions:

Wed Oct 14 Choor Su Gong Naka (8am)

Thu Oct 15 Bangkoo Shrine (6.30am), Hai Yian Geng Shrine (7am), Sapam Shrine (8am)

Fri Oct 16 Sheng Leng Tong (6.45am), Tae Gun Shrine (7am), Lim Hu Tai Su Shrine (7.09am), Tai Houd Tong Shrine (7.45am), Bu Seng Tong Shrine (8.30am), Hai Yian Geng Shrine (3.30pm), Tai Seng Pud Jor Shrine (4.30pm)

Sat Oct 17 Tai Seng Pud Jor Shrine (6am), Jeng Ong Shrine (6.30am), Ban Tha Rue Shrine (7am), Tae Gun Tae Shrine (7.15am), Choor Su Gong Naka Shrine (4.45pm), Sapam Shrine (6.45pm)

Sun Oct 18 Bang Liao Shrine (6am), Gim Su Ong Shrine (6.30am), Cherng Thalay Shrine (7am), Jong Nghi Tong (7.09am), Tai Houd Tong Shrine (3pm), Sheng Leng Tong (3.09pm)

Mon Oct 19 Gim Su Ong Shrine (6.30am), Jui Tui Shrine (8.09am)

Tue Oct 20 Kathu Shrine (6.45am), Tae Gun Shrine (7am), Hai Yian Geng Shrine (7am), Yok Ke Keng Shrine (9am), Ban Tha Rue Shrine (7.30pm)

Wed Oct 21 Ngor Hian Tai Tae Shrine (6.30am), Sui Boon Tong Shrine (7 am), Bangkoo Shrine (8am)

Blade Ladder Climbing:

Mon Oct 19 Bang Liao Shrine, Lim Hu Tai Su Shrine, Bangkoo Shrine (8-8.15pm)

Tue Oct 20 Jeng Ong Shrine (8pm)

Fire Walking:

Sun Oct 18 Jeng Ong Shrine (8pm), Jui Tui Shrine (8.09 pm), Ban Tha Rue Shrine (8.30 pm), Saphan Hin Shrine (8.45 pm), Yok Ke Keng Shrine (8.45 pm), Sui Boon Shrine (9 pm), Tae Gun Shrine (9 pm), Hai Yang Geng Shrine (9pm)

Mon Oct 19 Tai Houd Tong Shrine (8.45pm), Bu Seng Tong Shrine (9pm)

Tue Oct 20 Gim Su Ong Shrine (2pm), Bang Liao Shrine (8pm), Tae Gun Tai Tae Shrine (8pm), Lim Hu Tai Su Shrine (8.09pm), Jong Nghi Tong (8.09pm), Sheng Leng Tong (8.15pm), Cherng Thalang Shrine (8.30pm), Tai Seng Pud Jor (8.30pm)

Wed Oct 21 Kathu Shrine (3 pm), Bangkoo Shrine (7.30pm)

Last day of the Festival - October 21:

People who have strictly followed the 10 rules of the festival will cross the bridge of purification at each shrine. They are then rewarded with a stamp on their shirt or t-shirt as proof of their commitment.

The ''crossing of the bridge of purification'' is held between 6pm and 8pm at each shrine.

The last ceremony and parade of the Festival occurs between 9pm and midnight - all shrines join a street procession in Phuket Town (known as the Nine Emperor Gods Farewell) and moves towards Saphan Hin, before leaving Phuket.

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