Just like people in India who don’t eat non-vegetarian food during the nine days of Navratri, people in Myanmar, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand go vegetarian for a nine-day period. According to the Chinese calendar, people keep this fast, or let’s say, embrace vegetarianism on the eve of the 9th lunar month of the Chinese calendar. Wonder how these people do this and why?
The answer is that human beings have common origins, leading to common practices which have been followed since centuries. Let’s see how Indonesian people celebrate the festival!
The nine day festival is commonly called The Nine Emperor Gods Festival. The festival starts from 1 October and ends on 9 October, so on the ninth night the emperors of the temples perform chants and welcome the gods. The people believe that eating vegetarian food will help them to attain peace of mind and their body will be healthy. They also believe that the gods come through waterways and so many rituals are held along the seashore, where the devotees wear pure white dresses and stand holding incense sticks and candles, waiting for the gods to arrive.
Some say that many years ago, a Chinese opera group that was performing in Phuket, fell ill due to malaria and so the people of the band decided to avoid meat and go on a strict vegetarian diet. The band people prayed to nine emperor gods and ate only vegetarian food, recovering fully. Since surviving from malaria in the 19th century was astonishment itself, the people started to celebrate this festival and believe that this will help in attaining a healthy mind and body.
While the festival is celebrated by many Indonesian countries, the major attraction takes places in Phuket. The majority Thai Chinese population performs acts which are very deadly and not for people who are weak of heart. The activities include slashing of chests with swords, cutting of skin and much more.
The people who are going to be vegetarian for nine days have to be dressed in white and they don’t eat any seafood, poultry and dairy products, they only eat food like soy and other protein-rich food. Then there are people called “Masongs” who invite gods to possess their bodies. This ritual of China has its origins in India. The Masong should be unmarried and pure according to the Chinese tradition. The Masong pierce their cheeks or skin or tongues with all kinds of sharp objects which includes fish hooks, blades, swords and banners.
Thousands of tourists come to see the ceremonies that take place in Phuket and doctors surround the Masong during their acts. People believe that Masongs are not hurt during these activities since God possesses them. But in recent years frequent deaths and injuries have been reported during the festival. Hundreds of people also run across a bed of burning coals and climb ladders more than 5 meters high and made of sharp blades!
Participants in the festivals need to abide by some rules, including cleanliness of the whole body, wearing white, no alcohol, no sex and using separate kitchen utensils for eating. Pregnant ladies are not allowed to watch the acts and rituals performed. Throughout the festival, drums and fireworks are used in large quantities since the Chinese believe that this helps in shooing off the evil spirits. So if you want to watch something really unusual, this festival in Phuket should be high up on your bucket list!
Title image: aleenta