October 9, 2015
Thailand has its own Nine Emperor Gods Festival and it is a time of abstinence, cleanliness and at times blood-letting.
When: 1st – 9th October 2016
Where: Across the Kingdom
October is when Thailand is set to celebrate one of the country’s most popular cultural celebrations, that of the somewhat ironically named Vegetarian Festival (Thai: Tesagan Gin Je เทศกาลกินเจ). This annual celebration is held for nine days during the ninth Chinese lunar month, with festivals held through-out the entire Kingdom. Vegetarian festivals have a very long tradition in Thailand and are believed to be based on the Chinese ‘Nine Emperor Gods Festival.’
Abstinence or Gin Je
Those who participate in the festival dress all in white and adhere to gin je (กินเจ), which translated means abstinence from eating meat, poultry, seafood, and dairy products. Those that follow ‘gin je’ also have to adhere to 10 further rules, as follows:
- Maintain clean bodies during the festival
- Clean kitchen utensils and use them separately from others who do not participate in the festival
- Wear white during the festival
- Behave physically and mentally
- Do not eat meat or other animal-based products
- Abstain from sexual activities
- Do not consume alcoholic beverages
- People in a mourning state should not partake in the festival
- Pregnant ladies should not watch any of the rituals, also ladies having their period should not attend the ritual
It is believed that if you follow these 10 rules and ‘gin je,’ you bring about good health and peace of mind to yourself and other people you come in contact with. Many Thai people, especially those of Chinese descent, will restrict themselves to a vegetarian diet for nine days and nine nights, as a form of purification of body, mind and spirit.
During the nine days, vendors and proprietors of restaurants all over the country publicize that Vegetarian Food or je food is for sale at their establishments by putting a yellow flag out with the word เจ (je) written on it in red. But, technically, only food prepared in the sacred kitchen of a Chinese temple (in Thailand, called san jao ศาลเจ้า or ahm อ๊ำ) is truly je, as it must undergo a series of rituals before it can be given this auspicious title.
Listed below are just a few of the biggest events across the Kingdom, with links to the appropriate province.
Bangkok: In the Thai capital, visitors can expect to be mesmerised by a spectacular procession of floral floats and god images, to mark the grand opening of the festival along Yaowarat Road in Bangkok’s Chinatown, there is also a ceremony to choose a virgin lady to represent Guan Yin or the Goddess of Mercy. Along with a number of Chinese Opera’s and so much more.
Chonburi: All are welcome to join the celebration at the Sawang Boriboon Foundation in Na Klua district, a short distance from Pattaya city centre. The celebrations include a sacred ritual to make a special vegetarian diet to please the gods. See my post Pattaya Vegetarian Festival
Chumphon: All the Chinese shrines in the province will be joining the procession, where they will paraded God images around the city for people to worship and ask for blessings. The Festival will boast a range of special activities including merit-making rituals, light and sound presentation and films
Hat Yai: Has one of the largest communities of Chinese descendants in Thailand, the event features a range of spectacular celebrations to mark the festival. Activities at the Tong Sia Siang Tueng Park include cultural performances, demonstration of cooking vegetarian dishes, vegetarian eating contest, healthy kids contest and many other activities.
Krabi: More than 70 Chinese shrines from all over Krabi will be joining the grand celebration with a procession of god images around the town, starting from Krabi’s Provincial Hall.
Phang Nga: In the quaint town of Phang Nga, all the Chinese shrines will join the procession of god images. Here too, there will be displays of mind-blowing supernatural power; such as, walking bare feet on fire walking and climbing ladders studded with bladed steps, as well as merit-making activities.
Nakhon Ratchasima (Korat): A spectacular procession of god images from 25 Chinese shrines will be paraded around Korat town for people to worship and ask for blessings.
Samut Sakhon: The beach side province of Samut Sakhon boasts a humble yet impressive celebration to mark the annual Vegetarian Festival at its nine sacred Chinese shrines.
Trang: The lovely province of Trang will celebrate the festival with a grand procession of god images around the provincial town. While not on the scale of Phuket, there will walking on fire, plus other macabre rituals to demonstrate the peoples faith, as well as merit-making activities to ward off bad luck.
While not all the venues relish in blood letting and piecing all manner of body parts, what they all have in common is a close link to Chinese customs and the chance for those that participate fully in the rituals to cleanse both their bodies and minds.
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Venue information from TAT news
A big thanks to Jamie Monk for the use of his pictures. To see a full schedule of the Phuket festival along with more pictures click to see his brilliant blog