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A Travelers Guide To The Vegetarian Festival

September 6, 2019
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Known as one of the most celebrated food festivals in the world, the Vegetarian Festival is a joint celebration between all countries in the Southeast Asian region that aims to shine a spotlight on one of the benefits, advantages, and importance of vegetarian cuisine. 

The festival starts on the eve of the ninth month of the lunar calendar and is celebrated with full force in Myanmar, Thailand, and Malaysia. However, it is often met with a bit of conflicted reception as to how bizarre it is, and considering that it’s a festival that revolves around the concept of following a vegetarian lifestyle, this type of reaction shouldn’t come as a surprise. 

An honest view of the Vegetarian Festival

Although the sheer concept of the Vegetarian Festival may be bizarre in the eyes of some, there’s no denying that it’s absolutely spectacular in every sense of the word because of its expansive use of color, lively noise, and occasional shock-factor here and there. However, out of all the different countries to celebrate this breathtaking festival, none can pull off the entire celebration better than Thailand. 

Regarding the intensity and devotion to celebrating the festival, Thailand is at the top because of how widely it is celebrated around the country. It is even more so in towns that host communities of Chinese origin. The festival is regarded as both spectacular and bizarre because of all the sights and sounds that take place during its observances, such as blurs of white clothing, yellow and red flags, continuous use of fireworks, and extreme piercings and self-mutilation. 

While there’s more to talk more about what the festival looks like and how it feels to celebrate it, let’s first learn more about the Vegetarian festival by understanding its origins and symbols as a whole:

The origin of the Vegetarian Festival

In spite of its colorful nature, Thailand’s Vegetarian Festival is rooted in a rather-dark origin story that is a complete contrast with what it is now. In the olden times, Phuket was ravaged by a plague-like epidemic that caused the deaths of hundreds of people under mysterious circumstances. As a means to alleviate the problems, Chinese merchants had suggested holding a strict period of abstinence from meat due to a hunch of it being rancid, which eventually proved to be correct because the tainted meats proved to be the sources of sickness and death. 

On the other hand, another story of a rather-serious nature that is tied to the origins of the Vegetarian Festival dates back to earlier periods in the country wherein a troop of Chinese Opera Performers fell victim to a widespread case of malaria on the island. However, through following a strict vegetarian coupled with prayers to the Nine Emperor Gods, the afflicted Opera Performers made a miraculous recovery back to full health.

How is the Vegetarian Festival Celebrated?

Similar to its number of metaphors and images, the ways that the Vegetarian Festival is celebrated are also numerous and vary completely in nature. Aside from the eating of clean and green meals, there are different ways that this colorful and symbolic festival is celebrated:

  1. Nine days of prayer at the Bang Niang Chinese Temple

Located in Khao Lak, the Bang Niang Chinese Temple hosts nine days of devoted prayer in line with the Chinese Taoist festival of the Nine Emperor Gods. Following the attire of the Vegetarian Festival, devotees also dress in white for all of the nine days that are spent in praying to the Nine Emperor Gods.

  1. Revised way of living

Throughout the duration of the entire Vegetarian Festival, the people of Thailand dress in white from beginning to end while following the Gin Je way of living, which essentially means that they’ll have to abstain from meat, poultry, dairy, and seafood products. Additionally, participants are also required to instill a particular sense of discipline in their daily routine by behaving properly, avoiding sex and alcohol, and keeping their bodies as clean as possible. 

  1. The Mah Song Blessing

As one of the most culturally significant forms of celebration during the Vegetarian Festival, the Mah Song Blessing is a religious ritual that is performed in Phuket. The reason why the Mah Song Blessing attracts so many tourists and spectators is that the religious devotees perform self-mutilation as part of a longstanding tradition that signifies spiritual cleansing and merit-making in the eyes of the gods.

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