October 12, 2009

Phuket Vegetarian Festival

by Lopita Banerjee

The Vegetarian Festival started about 150 years ago in the Kathu district. The large number of tin mine workers and performers settled here was hit with an epidemic of a fatal disease during the Chinese ninth lunar month and lost many lives. They believed their ignorance to pay homage to the Nine Emperor Taoism in the first nine days of the month led to this tragedy. The next year the Chinese followed the tradition of refraining from eating meat, drinking alcoholic drinks, engaging in sex, quarreling, telling lies or killing. The epidemic ceased, and, every year since, the people of Phuket have continued to celebrate the festival. The festival has prevailed ever since.

The festival lasts for 9 days and takes place late September or October, based on the Chinese lunar calendar. These nine days of self-denial were considered to be auspicious both for the devotee and the community in large. Such a diet, moreover, is good for both the body, endowing it with health and strength, and for the soul, as the devotee refrains from killing animals for food and from all other sins. The spirit thus becomes clearer, calmer and filled with loving kindness.

The ten commitments followed during the festival are as follows:
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

Aside from this, there are other ceremonies throughout the fest, notably, invocation of the gods Lam Tao, and Pak Tao; processions of the gods' images; and feats of the Ma Song-like bathing in hot oil, bladed ladder climbing and fire-walking. The festival ends with merry making ceremonies at each temple with an impressive fireworks show concluding the festival.

Apart from the numerous processions dedicated to the gods sellers peddle toys, fireworks and special snacks line up the procession pathway. Temporary kitchens cook as many as 3000 vegetarian meals a day. The food though vegetarian is no less tasty or boring as you get to choose from a huge variety. Throughout the festival fireworks and drums are sounded, especially during ceremonies because it is believed the noise drives away evil spirits. These are wayang or Chinese operas, traditional entertainment for religious ceremonies.

Participants in the fest keep to a strict vegetarian diet for a minimum of three days. This they do to make themselves strong in mind and body. It helps them refrain from all vice, eating animal flesh, and killing animals. The festival thus promotes good hygiene, brightness and inner peace. Book your hotel from the various websites that also provide details of the dates of the festival. You can avail of special discounts and also avoid last minute rush by booking your rooms in advance.

Lopita Banerjee loves to write articles on how to book economical and low-priced hotels in your favorite destination spots and how to find reasonable hotels in Phuket Phuket that will soothe your senses and give you peace of mind