Vegetarian festival (or jia chai in local Hokkien Chinese dialect)
began in 1825, when the govenor of Thalang, Praya Jerm, moved the
island's principal town from Ta Reua in Thalang District to Get-Hoe
in Kathu District, where were tin mines and Chinese miners. Kathu
was then still covered by jungle and fever was
rife. It happened that a traveling opera company (called ngiu in Thai
or pua-hee in Hokkien dialect) came from China to perform for the
the whole company grew sick from an unnamed malady, they kept to a
vegetarian diet to honor two of the emperor gods, Kiew Ong Tai Teh
and Yok Ong Sone Teh. The sickness afflicting the opera troupe then
disappeared. This greatly interested the people of Kathu, who asked
how it was done. The answer came that ritual vegetarianism with its
attendant ceremonies had been the cause, with the result that people
embraced the faith enthusiastically. Thus the festival began: starting
the first evening of the ninth lunar month, it continued until the
ninth evening; the aim was to bring good luck to individuals as well
as to the community.
later happened that one familiar with the festival volunteered to
return to Kansai, in China, where he invited the sacred Hiao Ho-le
or Hiao lan (incense smoke) and Lian Tui (name plaques), which have
the status of gods, to come stay in Kathu. He also brought holy writings
used in the ceremonies, returning to Phuket on the seventh night of
the ninth month. The people, upon hearing of his arrival, went in
procession to Bang Niao Pier to bring him and his sacred cargo back.
This was the origin of the processions that figure so greatly in the
afternoon before the festival begins, a great pole at each temple
is raised, called the Go Teng pole, with which the gods are invited
to descend. At midnight the pole is hung with nine lanterns, signalizing
the opening of the fest. Two important
gods are also invited down at midnight to preside over ceremonies;
these are Yok Ong Hong Tae and Kiew Ong Tai Tae.
from this, there are other ceremonies throughout the fest, notably:
invocation of the gods Lam Tao, who keeps track of the living, and
Pak Tao, who keeps track of the dead; processions of the gods' images;
and feats of the Ma Song-like bathing in hot oil, bladed ladder climbing
and fire-walking. The festival ends with merit making ceremonies at
each temple (sadoh kroh) and the send-off of the gods on the last
night (when fireworks are at their most impressive).
Song, or entranced horses, are devotees whom the gods enter during
the fest. They manifest supernatural powers and perform self-tortures
in order to shift evil from individuals onto themselves, and to bring
the community good luck. Ma Song fall into two categories: those who,
having had an intimation of impending doom, want to extend their lives;
and people specially chosen by the gods for their moral qualities.
the festival fireworks and drums are sounded, especially during ceremonies.
It is held that the louder they are the better, because the noise
drives away evil spirits.
in the fest keep to a strict vegetarian diet for a varying number
of days, usually no less than three. This they do to make themselves
strong in mind and body; they refrain from all vice, eating animal
flesh, and killing animals. The festival thus promotes good hygiene,
brightness and inner peace.