When talking about the vegetarian festival or “Jia Chai”, many people might see pictures of mediums of the gods, the sound of firecrackers, and prayers to pay homage to the gods. Or in the eyes of many, they would see a long walking street full of various kinds of vegetarian food to taste and obtain merit.
Phuket Vegetarian Festival will take place from October 6-14 this year. The atmosphere may not be as lively as we have always been familiar with due to the spread of COVID-19 that left an impact around the world. But believe it or not, because of an epidemic, the Phuket Vegetarian Festival originated.
Back then, the Chinese came to Phuket Island to mine tin in the area called “Nai To” or Kathu in present days. Following the Chinese community that emerged, the Chinese opera troupe came to play their show, but soon after they fell seriously ill. If it was these days, sure enough we would call it “Cluster from Opera Troupe.”
With faith in god, the Chinese opera group thought that the cause of the illness was because they did not perform the ‘Jia Chai’ ceremony, which literally translates to ‘eating vegetables’ which is a ceremony that has been performed every year back in China. Therefore, they decided to hold the ceremony at the opera house. Amazingly, the illnesses of the Chinese opera troupe and villagers in Nai Tu have completely cured. From then, faith in the gods has been firmly instilled and the traditions have been followed and passed down from generation to generation.
The tradition of the vegetarian festival that began with faith has spread into a culture that attracts tourists from all over the world to join the festival, greatly generating revenues and significantly boosting Phuket and Thailand’s economy.
In recent times, though spending during holidays has declined due to many factors resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak for the past 2 years, the festival that is full of faith of Phuket people continues to be organized. However, you may not see the street percussion or the ritual performance of the mediums.
Many shrines responded to disease preventive measures. For example, Jui Tui Shrine announced that they will refrain from hosting this year’s vegetarian food walking street, stating that “The heart of the vegetarian festival is rituals. In the next year, if the situation is resolved, the Walking Street at Jui Tui Shrine will definitely come back in a big way.”
Although many see this kind of transformation as the ‘New Normal’, in different light, this could be seen as the ‘Back To Basic’ or a return to the original purpose or core of this culture once again.
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