September 20, 2014
Vegetarian Festival (2014) Tesagan Gin Je เทศกาลกินเจ
When: Tuesday, 23rd September and will last for about 10 days (This is only ever approx. as the festival can go on for 11 days)
Vegetarian festivals have a long tradition in Thailand and are believed to be based on the Chinese ‘Emperor Gods Festival’. Those that ‘spiritually’ celebrate the day will leave their daily businesses aside, (it is not a public holiday in the Kingdom) and visit temples dressed all in white, carrying candles and flowers to make merit for the lives of animals.
The festival is seen as a chance to cleanse the body and so during the festival period Thai’s will try to eat only vegetarian food, they will also refrain from any acts that would lead to the taking of lives.
The city has its own celebrations and is one of the largest in Thailand. There are two parades on the 23rd September 2014 the first procession starts at 9:19 am and sets off from the Bali Hai Pier, it continues along Walking Street to the entrance on Beach Road where the parade then splits, with one group turning right at the entrance of Walking Street, then turning left onto 2nd Road towards Nakula, up to Central Road, where they meet up again with the second group (see below).
The second group continues on Beach Road up to Central Road, where it turns right and meets up with the other group at the Tops intersection, both groups then continue on to the corner of third Road where they will board busses to ferry them all to the temple ‘Wat Sawang Fah’ in Nakula near the old market.
Later in the day at 12:30, the annual dual-pronged “Kiew Aung Huk Jow” and “Bodhisattva” (in Buddhism an enlightenment being) parade starts off at Beach Road which in turn will be closed from 12.30 hrs until 15.00 hrs.
Through-out the day and along beach road there will be a vast variety of food stalls offering a wide range of products, some familiar and with luck some not so familiar. While a few may look like meat dishes, they in fact, contain tofu, which is made from soybeans, water and a coagulant, or curdling agent. If you have more of a sweat tooth there will also be plenty of traditional delectable Thai sweets to try, which unlike the majority of the vegetarian food on offer may not actually help your waist line.
The festival kicks off proper at 4 p.m. back at ‘Wat Sawang Fah’ in Nakula. Featuring “eng-ko” traditional Chinese performances and a huge “Five Auspicious Celestial Rice” dish, cooked in a giant frying pan. The rice dish is expected to have a bit of a bite to it and will be free to everyone attending.
The activities in Pattaya are not on the scale of Phuket where the festival encompasses more unusual religious rituals. It is commonly thought that the festival took on a more spiritual meaning on Phuket when a wandering Chinese opera group fell ill with malaria while performing on the island. They decided to adhere to a strict vegetarian diet and pray to the Nine Emperor Gods to ensure purification of the mind and body. To everyone’s amazement the opera group made a complete recovery. The people celebrated by holding a festival that was meant to honour the gods as well as express the people’s happiness at surviving what was, in the 19th century, a fatal illness.
It is here that the many religious devotees will perform ritualized mutilation upon themselves and one another (it is with the consent of each of those involved), while under a trance-like state, including but not limited to: impaling through cheeks, arms, face, legs, back etc., with everything from small needles to long swords and other objects such as fire arms and umbrella’s, in fact the size of the item is only restricted to the ability of the pieced person to carry the object; partial skinning (the skin is not removed, just cut and flipped over; sounds less painful not!); slashing of limbs, chest, stomach and especially the tongue with swords, axes and knives; Bloodletting, removal of tissue (normally limited to cysts); standing near fire crackers as they explode; walking bare foot on hot coals and if that was not enough, climbing up and down, barefoot, a stepladder with a total of 72 crosspieces made of sharp iron blades. Not for the faint of heart or the squeamish amongst us.
The festival in Pattaya while on a smaller scale to Phuket and without the bloodletting, is all about a fun time and the whole day is designed to fill all your senses, from the barrage of both noise and colour of the parades and performances to the delectable smells, textures and flavours of the food. The day promises to leave you with so many memories and possibly….. a different attitude to ‘Veggies’…..