Thai Vegetarian Festival 2023

The Thai Vegetarian Festival is an annual 10-day celebration that occurs nationwide during the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar.
Thailand
14 October 2023

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The Thai Vegetarian Festival (Tesagan Gin Je), also known as the Nine Emperor Gods Festival, is an annual celebration that occurs nationwide during the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar. This year, the lunar tradition is observed from the evening of October 14th to 23rd, 2023.

The 10-day festival is widely observed by Thais across the country and is a major draw among tourists of Chinese descent. Although activities are held nationwide, Tesagan Gin Je in Phuket, where it is also known as the Phuket Vegetarian Festival, has some of the most prominent celebrations in Thailand.

The origins of Tesagan Gin Je

Phuket Vegetarian Festival
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The Thai Vegetarian Festival is believed to have originated in Phuket, specifically the district of Kathu. The origin story begins in 1825, when a Chinese opera troupe visited the Andaman Pearl, and a few members fell hopelessly ill. 

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. Whether by coincidence or divine veganism, the Chinese opera troupe recovered and the rest is history.

As a multicultural treasure, Phuket has a significant ethnic Peranakan community (known locally as Baba-Nyonya), defined as the first wave of southern Chinese settlers. Every year, Chinese temples in Phuket and throughout Thailand organize dazzling parades for nine days in tribute to the Nine Emperor Gods.

Celebrating the Thai Vegetarian Festival

Phuket Vegetarian Festival
Source: wiratho / Shutterstock.com

Most people observing the festival are content with swearing off animal products and pungent plants in keeping with the je diet (or “zhai,” in Chinese). Strictly speaking, it would be more accurate to call it the Thai Vegan Festival.

However, the Taoist festival serves to cleanse the souls and minds of those celebrating it. Like other ascetic traditions, people observing Tesagan Gin Je will also abstain from alcohol or sexual intercourse. Other practices of self-discipline, like walking on hot coals or face piercings, have drawn comparisons to the Hindu festival of Thaipusam, which is celebrated in neighboring Malaysia and Singapore as well as India.

Typically, the festival is associated with vibrant music, dance, and parades. The streets of Thailand would be adorned with red and yellow je flags, signaling to consumers that the shop is selling je food. Chinese temples would host ceremonies to welcome the Nine Emperor Gods.

If you are planning to celebrate indoors, take care to separate kitchen utensils and from those who are not participating in the vegan tradition.

Vegetarian festival across Southeast Asia

The market selling vegetarian food during Thai Vegetarian Festival
Source: Quality Stock Arts / Shutterstock.com

As previously mentioned, the Thai Vegetarian Festival is associated with the Nine Emperor Gods Festival, which is a Taoist celebration crucial to the Chinese calendar. The festival is also celebrated in other Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. 

In Penang, Malaysia, festivities are mainly held at the Nine Emperor Gods temple or Tow Boo Kong temple, the largest Buddhist temple in the town of Butterworth. Activities include daily prayer ceremonies and major procession on the final festival day. Chinese vegetarian dishes are sold within the temples’ premises on the day.

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.