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Phuket Vegetarian Festival

Silvia Dona | Thailand

Fire walking ritual of Jui Tui Shrine is a very elaborate affair and generally held at a nearby sports field as it involves a great number of spirit mediums and gods’ sedan-chairs arriving in procession. A large crowd assembles to watch the spectacle which generally takes place on the evening of the sixth day.
The pyre is prepared following specific rituals and four altars with gods images are placed in the corners of the fenced-off space. The mah song (spirit medium) purifies the glowing coals of the pyre, scratches a few signs on the ground in front of the coals and throws salt and rice grains on them. A prayer is then read by one of the mah songs assistants who places a big sheet of charm paper on the coals to protect the safety of the fire walkers.

The Phuket Vegetarian Festival, aka the Nine Emperor Gods Festival, is celebrated on the 9th lunar month of the Chinese calendar. The festival is rooted in Chinese Taoist beliefs.

The temples hold a 9 day ceremony during which spirit mediums (mah song) fall into a trance and pierce their cheeks, arms and back with ritual objects. Street processions follow with mah song in trance displaying various forms of self-mutilation.

During the procession the spirit mediums also distribute blessed candy, bracelets and pieces of orange cloths for good luck. They also bless the crowds by waving their flags over peoples heads.

Mutilation is not the only part of the process. Devotees adhere to ritual cleansing activities during this period and dress in white clothes and abstain from alcohol, meat and sex.

Yellow flags with red writing outside restaurants indicate that the establishment sells jeh or vegetarian food.

Fire walking also takes place and attracts big crowds.

The whole celebration is accompanied by drumbeats and loud firecrackers which are believed to ward off evil spirits.


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