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Phuket's Vegetarian Festival

The Festival | Rules | History

Phuket's Vegetarian Festival is one of Thailand's most interesting festivals. The festival lasts for nine days from the 1st to the 9th of the ninth Chinese lunar month.

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, signalizing the opening of the fest. Two important gods are also invited down at midnight to preside over ceremonies; these are Yok Ong Hong Tae and Kiew Ong Tai Tae.

Aside from this, there are other ceremonies throughout the fest, notably: 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; and feats of the Ma Song-like bathing in hot oil, bladed ladder climbing and fire-walking. The festival ends with merit making ceremonies at each temple (sadoh kroh) and the send-off of the gods on the last night (when fireworks are at their most impressive).

Ma Song, or entranced horses, are devotees whom the gods enter during the fest. They manifest supernatural powers and perform self-tortures in order to shift evil from individuals onto themselves, and to bring the community good luck. 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. It is held that the louder they are the better, because the noise drives away evil spirits.

Participants in the fest keep to a strict vegetarian diet for a varying number of days, usually no less than three. This they do to make themselves strong in mind and body; they refrain from all vice, eating animal flesh, and killing animals. The festival thus promotes good hygiene, brightness and inner peace.

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