Thai Vegetarian Festival
The Thai Vegetarian Festival (Tesagan Gin Jay) is an annual celebration that occurs nationwide during the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar. The 10-day festival is widely observed by Thais across the country, with some of the most prominent celebrations taking place in the city of Phuket.
The origins of Tesagan Gin Jay
The Thai Vegetarian Festival is believed to have originated in Phuket, specifically the district of Kratu. In 1825, when a Chinese opera troupe visited the region, a few members fell hopelessly sick.
In a desperate attempt to protect its members, the rest of the group maintained an exclusively vegan diet out of respect to the Nine Emperor Gods of Taoism, thought to have the power to heal illnesses. Staying vegan proved effective in curing the sick members, and the rest is history.
Every year for 10 days, Chinese temples throughout Thailand organize dazzling parades in tribute to the Nine Emperor Gods.
Observing the Thai Vegetarian Festival
The Taoist festival serves to cleanse the souls and minds of those celebrating it. Strict adherents abstain from alcohol or sex, with some even practicing face piercings, but most people observing the festival are content with swearing off animal products and strong-smelling plants in keeping with the jay diet. Strictly speaking, it would be more accurate to call it the Thai Vegan Festival.
Typically, the festival is associated with vibrant music, dance, and parades. The streets of Thailand would be adorned with red and yellow jay flags, signaling to consumers that the shop is selling jay food. Chinese temples would host ceremonies to welcome the Nine Emperors.
As a result of the COVID-19 crisis, most people are expected to mark the festival simply by wearing white clothing or refraining from consuming animal-based products. Though the pandemic has curtailed the more visible aspects of the celebrations, Thais, especially those with Chinese ancestry, are expected to continue carrying on the spirit of the festival, except for those in mourning.
If you are planning to celebrate indoors, take care to separate kitchen utensils and from those who are not participating in the vegan tradition.
Celebrations in other Asian nations
Traditionally, the Thai Vegetarian Festival is associated with the Nine Emperor Gods Festival which is a Taoist celebration crucial to the Chinese Calendar. The festival itself is celebrated predominantly in Southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia and Singapore, alongside Thailand.
In Singapore, one of the activities during this festival is the bridge-crossing purification ritual. During the ritual, participants receive yellow threads and charms to ward off the evils of the past year.