The Vegetarian Festival is an annual event held during the 9th lunar month of the Chinese year. This festival is celebrated all over Thailand and other parts of South East Asia, but the centre point is in the south of Thailand, on the island of Phuket. The Vegetarian Festival is a 9 day Chinese Taoist celebration.
During the 9 days of the festival people who are participating in the event will refrain from eating meat, seafood and dairy products. People are also required to dress in white and are not allowed to drink alcohol. All throughout Phuket restaurants will display a yellow flag with red writing on it to inform people they are selling food suitable for vegetarians. The word on the flag is je - which means vegetarian food. The dishes prepared in these restaurants have many vegetarian ingredients including tofu, mushrooms and soya protein.
As part of the celebrations of the Vegetarian Festival there are many street processions and events in Chinese temples in Phuket. At these processions, which usually take place very early in the morning, you can see people known as ma song. Ma song are people who ask the spirits of gods to enter and possess their bodies. The ma song take part in many different rituals at the temple and many wear beautiful traditional costumes. Ma song also perform self torture, and you can see them taking part in the procession with objects through their cheeks or with many piercings all over their bodies. It is believed that the ma song feel no pain during this ritual.
The Vegetarian Festival is very popular for tourists from Thailand and from all around the world. Phuket is very busy during this time as people come to try the delicious vegetarian food and observe the ceremonies and rituals. The most popular processions are early every morning when tourists get a chance to see the ma song, although this isn't for the faint hearted! The ma song are often covered in blood, and it's common to see all manner of objects through their cheeks. Objects that have been seen through the cheeks of the ma song include swords, guns, tree branches, lamps and even umbrellas!
Now try our Phuket Vegetarian Festival Quiz!
The 2012 Phuket Vegetarian Festival is from October the 15th until October the 23rd.
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