Phuket is known more for its beaches
than its ancient cultural attractions
, but every year in the 9th Lunar month, the island hosts one of Asia's most fascinating religious festivals.
From 15-23 October, the Phuket Vegetarian festival will transform Phuket Old Town into a sacred place bursting with spiritual fervour, which takes over from the daily business of tourism for 10 days. Local people abstain from meat, alcohol and other body pollutants in a show of faith in a tradition that pays homage to their Hokkien Chinese ancestry.
Large poles called 'Go Teng' will rise form the island's temples, inviting the Gods to descend from heaven and join rituals and ceremonies that make merit and bring luck for the year ahead. The shops and streets will be decorated with lanterns and flags, street markets will sell tasty local vegetarian dishes and street performances will entertain the crowds as they did when the festival first took place back in 1825. As well as observing a strict vegetarian diet for a minimum of 3 days during the festival, devotees also observe sobriety, cleanliness, chastity and polite behaviour. It is also customary to wear white for the entire period to symbolise purity and moral strength.
It is the story of a Chinese travelling opera company that inspires this annual celebration of good health and behaviour. According to local legend, when the players visited the small tin mining town of Get Hoe in Kathu nearly 200 years ago, they became ill from the jungle fever that often gripped its inhabitants. To appease the Gods, they took to a pure, vegetarian diet and observed strict religious rules until their fevers lifted. The local people saw their recovery as a miracle and decided to mark the occasion with an annual festival that has lasted until the present day.
Apart from the chance to try some fabulous local food, what makes this festival so fascinating for visitors to Phuket
are the feats of strength and resistance to pain shown by disciples known as Ma Song, who believe the Gods enter their bodies giving them supernatural powers. By entering a trance like state, the disciples are able to perform feats such as walking on hot coals, pricing their bodies with hooks and knives and climbing bladed ladders. Such acts are actually selfless displays designed to draw evil from other individuals into themselves and therefore cleanse the entire community of evil spirits.
To back up these brave acts of devotion, people let off Chinese firecrackers, which explode day and night to ward off any bad spirits that may be tempted to replace the one's being banished through the rituals.
An central part of the festival is a boisterous and colorful procession on the 7th night. This parade honours a disciple who volunteered to return to China on behalf of the village and later returned with protective plaques known as 'Lian Tui' that are believed to be representations of the Gods. He left and arrived by sea, and the people walked in procession to the pier to greet him and protect his holy freight.
by LVH Marketing