Nine Emperor Gods Festival / 九皇爺 / เทศกาลกินเจ - The vegetarian festival is mainly celebrated by the Chinese Thai community during the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar. A couple of my visits to Phuket coincided with this event so I thought I would post some images of the things visitors may encounter. It is truly an amazing experience. There is nothing I have every seen which compares to the Phuket Vegetarian Festival. The event for this year will take place from 4th - 14th October 2013.
Known in Thailand as the "Tetsagan Gin Jay/เทศกาลกินเจ" and elsewhere as the 9 Emperor Gods Festival it is usually held over a 10-day period around September or October.
During this time, local residents strictly observe a vegetarian or vegan diet as well as perform sacred rituals at various shrines and temples.
The vegetarian festival is widely celebrated around the country but only in the southern provinces around Phuket will you find these bizarre rituals.
There will be specific ceremonies at Chinese temples and shrines all around the island. You can usually find the events schedule online a month or so before it begins. I've included this information at the bottom of this post.
The are many groups of devotees and each has its own temple or shrine to support. The nature of the event can be quite graphic involving quite a bit of blood.
Each morning at dawn the ceremonies begin and devotees are pierced at mutilated. After which, they parade many kilometers through the streets to Phuket town.
Tens of thousands of people converge upon Phuket town and the crowds gather quite thick along the parade routes.
From dawn till dusk you will hear nothing but firecrackers and fireworks all over Phuket. The sound can be quite deafening and whole city streets disappear completely in the smoke they leave behind. It is reminiscent of a disaster or war zone if you didn't know it was a cause for celebration.
The Mah SongOnly the Mah Song (ม้าทรง) perform the piercings and bodily mutilations. They believe that their bodies become the vehicle for the spirit gods. Many believe that the gods skewer the cheeks of the mah song with sharp instruments in order to absorb negative energy as well as to help other people by freeing them from bad karma, illness or sorrow.
Mah song ม้าทรง are the people who invite the spirits of gods to possess their bodies. Mah ม้า is the word for horse in Thai, and the name mah song refers to how the spirits of the gods use the bodies of these people as a vehicle, as one rides a horse. Only pure, unmarried men or women without families of their own can become mah song. At the temple they undergo a series of rituals to protect them for the duration of the festival, during which flagellation and self-mutilation is practiced. The mah song tradition doesn't exist in China and is believed to have been adopted from the Indian festival of Thaipusam.Source: Wikipedia
Each "Mah Song" is usually surrounded by a group of family and friends who encircle and protest them from the large crowds. Some people pierce themselves with extremely large items such as bicycles, furniture, appliances and even the kitchen sink. If it is not bolted down, chances are it will end up skewered through someone's face.
Vegetarian Festival in Thailand
In accordance with the traditions, many religious devotees will perform ritualized mutilation upon themselves and one another (with the consent of, context and understanding of all involved and the practice itself) while under a trance-like state, including but not limited to: impaling through cheeks, arms, face, legs, back etc., with everything from as small as syringes to as large as is agreed upon between all members; partial skinning (the skin is not removed, just cut and flipped over); slashing of limbs, chest, stomach and especially tongue with swords, axes and knives; bloodletting; removal of tissue (normally limited to cysts) and intentionally wrapping or standing near fire crackers as they are lit.
This is done without anesthetic, always inside or near the temples surrounded by other devotees with only iodine, petroleum jelly and surgical gloves as precautionary measures. Despite this scenario, many of the same people performing the rituals are also the people who will care for many of the people in their recovery, the actual impaling is done by doctors and physicians in the community, is planned out for weeks if not months in advance and medical teams are present in and around temple grounds for the entire time of the festival, with frequently spectators needing more help then the devotees, who remain in a trance during this process and are monitored through the entire event in case they should drop out of concentration, in which case they are immediately take to medical professionals regardless of the circumstances to minimize post trance bleeding.
These items are heavy and the Mah Song risk having them ripped from their faces in the large crowds. They are encircled and protected by groups of family and friends.
The Mah Song need their family and friends to support the during this time. It can be very dangerous if one of them falls or is pushed through the large crowds. You can tell they are afraid of having the items forcibly ripped from their flesh. The risk of injury risk of injuring themselves is very real. You will often see people who do nothing but wipe the blood from the wound of spirit medium.
The Mah Song can usually be seen in a trance like state and shaking their heads back and forth as if under the influence of some kind of intoxicant. For the most part, they do not appear to be in pain.
This experience can be quite alien to westerners. Even corporations are starting to get in on the action and you can see that Volvo has even provided some sponsorship in the ceremony.
I wonder how long it will be until Coca Cola, Microsoft and other corporations sponsor their own spirit mediums.
- Baan Tha Rue Shrine, Thepkrasattri Road, not far from the Heroines’ Monument
- Cherng Thalay Shrine, Sri Soonthorn Road, Thalang District
- Sapam Shrine, Thepkrasattri Road, Koh Kaeo, Phuket Town
- Yok Ke Keng Shrine, Soi Panieng, Samkong, Phuket Town
- Samkong Shrine, Yaowarat Road, on the north side of Phuket Town
- Kathu Shrine, Wichitsongkram Road, Kathu District
- Put Jaw Shrine, On the corner of Soi Phuthorn, Ranong Road, Phuket Town
- Jui Tui Shrine, Soi Phutorn, Ranong Road Soi 4, Phuket Town
- Sui Boon Tong Shrine (aka Lorong Shrine), Pattana Road, Phuket Town
- Bang Neow Shrine, Phuket Road, on the south side of Phuket Town
- Thep Rasi Shrine, Phuket Road, near Robinson Department Store, Phuket town
- Kiew Tien Keng Shrine, Sapanhin Park, Phuket Town
Schedule for street processions of Chinese Shrines
|Mon||October 07, 2013||Sapam Shrine|
|Tue||October 08, 2013||Samkong Shrine|
|Wed||October 09, 2013||Ban Tha Rve Shrine|
|Thu||October 10, 2013|| Bang Neow Shrine|
Cherng Thalay Shrine
|Fri||October 11, 2013||Jui Tui Shrine|
|Sat||October 12, 2013|| Kathu Shrine|
|Sun||October 13, 2013||Sui Boon Tong Shrine|
For more information please visit the Official Website for the schedule and other details or download the details in pdf format here.