When is Phuket Vegetarian Festival?
The Phuket Vegetarian Festival (or Nine Emperor Gods Festival) happens once a year, during the ninth lunar month, and is one of the most auspicious events on the island. For this unique occasion a crowd of devotes assemble in every Chinese shrine around the island, followed by an even bigger horde of photographers avid to get the shot of their life. The Vegetarian Festival is an internationally known event, and while it also happens in a modest way in Bangkok around the same dates, it is really a Phuket event.
For several day, on both sides of Phuket Town streets leading to shrines, food stands display tons of vegetarian dishes in all imaginable shapes and sizes (but surprisingly having a very similar taste). Once we even saw a full collection of fake sushi’s all made of rice and tofu! The irony is that it is actually hard to find real vegetables: all you can find are noodles, deep fried stuff, and tofu shaped like meat, but no vegetables. In addition, most restaurants around Phuket TOWN are closed for a week, so if like us you are not so attracted by deep fried food and tofu, get ready to drive or to starve.
Weeks before the Vegetarian Festival events start, yellow Chinese flags bloom on every possible roadside and intersections, especially near Chinese temples. Stages, decorations and parade accessories gather near shrines, and hundreds of food stands are erected nearby. The whole event is usually heavily sponsored.
The Festival main event then start and multitude of worshipers, all dressed in white or yellow, gather in every shrines for the first event marking the opening of the ceremony: the giant bamboo pole rising, meant to invite divinities to come down to earth. The devotees wear bright and very ornamented outfits and then you are set for a full week of firecrackers, parades, piercings… and of course, vegetarian food.
Each day of the Phuket Vegetarian Festival, processions start from one of the main Phuket shrines and thousands of people will pay respect to ancestors. During this entire week everyone follow ten principles: mostly wear white, do not eat meat, do not drink alcohol, do no have sexual activities, etc… two of them even specify that women having periods should not attend nor even watch the festival.
The purpose of the Phuket Vegetarian Festival, which seems to originate in the 1800, seems to differ from the Chinese event which occurs in several countries of South East Asia. Here, the worshipers will follow these ten principles to cleanse their spirit while the devotees will go in procession, self inflicting all kinds of tortures to shift other worshipers evil onto themselves in order to bring luck back on the community. Sweet…
It is to be seen once in your life, but with such eerie views, it attracts a crowd of photographers all wanting their share of weird photos to take back home. So from early morning, worshipers will enter a trance at their favourite shrine and pierce their cheek with the most extreme object possible: from a gas nozzle to a scale warship model or a car shock absorber… basically anything goes, the weirder, the better.
Anyway here you go, I’ll post here the unavoidable piercing photos that everyone has already seen or has shot. I won’t even spare you the gross ‘tongue sliding on a giant blade’, it’s too much. ]More challenging are the photos of the fire cracker parade, with the tremendous amount of suffocating smoke and the totally deafening noise. Also the ‘walk on fire’ is really hard to photograph as you have to come early to secure the best spot, but then get ready to feel the heat for an hour or so. First you have to save a spot near the burning charcoal early in order not to have anyone in front of you, which means sweating for at least an hour. Second: the ‘walking’ is more of a jump as fast as you can above the charcoal, so with the lack of light, taking sharp images difficult, so get ready with your fill flash to freeze the moment.