The Rituals of the Phuket Vegetarian Festival – The annual Phuket Vegetarian Festival aka Nine Emperor Gods Festival rituals briefly explained.
The Preliminary Ritual
It takes place one day preceding those nine days of the Vegetarian festival – namely on the last day of the eighth lunar month of the Chinese calendar.
Demarcation & Consecration Ritual
The ritual is to separate and consecrate the compound at the shrine for the 9 days of the Vegetarian festival by the principal deity, especially the kitchen of the shrine. The locals believe to be cleansed by consuming vegetarian food from the kitchen of the shrine.
Heavenly Warrior-Releasing Ritual
Demons & orphan souls who have been won over by Taoist Master and able to take a first step up the ladder of merit, which leads to heaven. They are released once a year to protect the community as an act of “Do Good Receive Good” for the whole festival.
Tall Lantern Pole Raising
The ritual takes place in the afternoon and evening of the day preceding the nine days of the Vegetarian festival. The Tall Lantern Pole with the nine wicks-in -oil symbolises the Nine-Emperor Gods and will stay hanging on its pole for the duration of the Vegetarian festival.
Jade Emperor God Invitation
Jade Emperor God Invitation ritual takes place in the compound of the shrine prior to the Nine Emperor Gods Invitation Ritual to signify the Jade Emperor God as the head of the Taoist Pantheon.
Nine Emperor Gods Invitation Ritual
The ritual is conducted either on the seashore or water front on the same night. A pair of wooden kidney-shaped divining block is thrown to see if the Nine Emperor Gods have descended from heaven and arrived at the shrine. Their spirits are believed to inhere in their incense urn and are placed in a secluded back room throughout the festival. Only the censer master and his assistant are allowed to enter the room.
Heavenly Warriors Food-Offering Ritual
The ritual, conducts in the early afternoon at 15:00, pays respect to the spirits of warriors & their horses, many of the rank and file spirit mediums participating in this festival are possessed by these spirits, who are believed to entertain a position in the celestial hierarchy beneath the gods, but above the ghosts. Vegetarian food, tea and rice liquor are prepared for the spirit warriors and grass is for horses.
Worshipping Ritual for the Deceased Devotees
The ritual is conducted to pay homage by food offering to those deceased devotees of the shrine for their lifetime devotion.
The purpose of chanting is to achieve the sensual pleasure cleansing to cleanse psycho-physiological order as human body is controlled by the nerve center. The shrine conducts 2 times of chanting per day, plus 1 time of reading the contributors’ name to the Nine Emperor Gods.
Seven Stars Propitiation Ritual
The ritual takes place on the evening before the street procession to receive the power of Polaris thru the Big Bear or Seven Stars. According to the Chinese ancient record, the Big Bear has 9 stars, 7 visible and 2 invisible stars. In the process of constant development of Taoism folk beliefs, they are the inheritors, mediators and promoters that pass the power of “Dou Mu” or “Tao Bo” to human beings.
The Street Procession
The street processions are conducted on different day in Phuket by every shrine during the Phuket Vegetarian Festival. This is the most spectacular event of the Festival, which became iconic of the festival as a whole. The processions offer an opportunity for the householders and the general public along the streets to receive the blessings of the gods possessing the spirit mediums. The locals set up altar in front of their houses, decorated with Chinese embroideries table apron, placing on them lit candles and incense sticks , flowers, fruit, sweets & tea.
The carrying of the Nine Emperor Gods incense urn is considered a great honour and it is carried by the “Lor Chu” or censer master, and tightly held under the Nine Emperor Gods ceremonial umbrella. The explosion of firecrackers are supposed to be lit before to welcome the palanquin of the Nine Emperor Gods and reaches a climax. Devotees squad down to receive blessing of the Nine Emperor Gods thru mediums.
The Fire Walking Ritual
Fire overcomes impurity and repels evil influence. As men purify themselves with fire, they expiate transgressions and thus overcome yin. The locals believe that only those that are cleansed will be void from being seriously burns.
The Bladed Ladder Climbing Ritual
There are 36 rungs for the spirit mediums to ascend and 36 rungs to descend, total of 72. To add 3 to 6 and 2 to 7, the total is 9. “9”is the biggest and auspicious number for Chinese. The mediums climb up the ladder, bless the public, throw sweets and charm cloths and descend the other side of the ladder.
The Ceremonial Bridge Crossing Ritual
The main idea of devotees crossing the bridge is believed to cleanse from impurities and misfortunes that may fall upon them. Once crossing the bridge, a red stamp of the Nine Emperor Gods seal (or imperial seal) will be stamped at the back of the devotees to signify that they are purified from sins and calamities that might happen to them.
The Farewell Ritual
The Phuket Vegetarian Festival culminates in the farewell ritual for the Jade Emperor and the Nine Emperor Gods on the evening of the ninth and last day, and comes to close with sending off the Nine Emperor Gods or “Kiu Ong” at midnight back to the heaven.
The ritual is divided into 2 parts:
- The Jade Emperor is bade farewell at the lantern pole in the shrines’ compound by burning the paper palace for the Jade emperor.
- Then the Nine Emperors are sent off at a body of water, mainly conduct close to the sea – Saphan Hin or river from where the Nine Emperor Gods are believed to return to the Heaven.
This is a community-wide celebration.
Lantern Pole Lowering Ritual
On the afternoon of the 10th of the ninth lunar month, the tall lantern pole is lowered in a brief ritual with participants dress in everyday costumes. After the nine wicks-in-oil in the lamps of the Tall Lantern are extinguished, the remaining oil is mixed with the oil used to light the altars of the temple during the festival and distributed among devotees. The locals believed that this oil has supernatural curing power.
Feast ready for communal services
It marks the adjournment of the Nine Emperor Gods Festival or Vegetarian Festival. The shrine prepares meat dishes for all participants for their devotions, support sand participation.
Firecracker are widely used for the entire festival. It is believed that lighting firecrackers before the sedan chairs and palanquin is to welcome the Nine-Emperor Gods n deities by the locals.
The Flag of the Nine Emperor Gods
Yellow is the color strictly used for the flag of the Nine Emperor Gods with red ink on it.
Purification & Vegetarianism
While devoted to the Nine Emperor Gods, purification of individuals as well as of communal spaces is the principal theme of the whole belief during this period of time. Self-purification of the devotees is symbolised by the white attire and fasting to achieve a strict form of vegetarianism. The purification of space of impurity and dangerous forces, conceived generally as evil spirits, is one of the principal ritual activities of the spirit mediums.