11 July 2024

The country’s annual vegetarian festival kicked off Tuesday in many provinces around the country, with measures to prevent COVID-19 spread in place, and without the usual fanfare.

The festival, which takes place each year in the ninth lunar month, is culturally significant, particularly among the Chinese community in southern provinces like Phuket. The island is famous for its street procession, which includes rituals of devotees self-inflicting pain, either to demonstrate divine power or as a sacrifice, taking on the sins of the community.

The event, which is usually attended by thousands of people, will still be held this year, amid the pandemic, but will exclude the pain infliction ritual to prevent the spread of the virus. Shrines around the island also announced the mandating of masks and gloves and requiring ATK negative test results for shrine staff.

The festival this year officially takes place from October 6th to 14th, according to the Chinese lunar calendar but, in many places including Phuket, the rituals began on October 5th, as shrines and believers started performing the pole raising ritual, which is believed to summon divinities to Earth.

During the nine-day event, believers will refrain from meat eating and sexual activity in a bid to cleanse their souls and accumulate merit.

This year, however, people in Phuket might be affected to some extent by the floods around the country, which usually result in the surge of vegetable prices. The kale price, for example, has increased from Bt40 to Bt70, while water spinach has doubled. The different COVID-19 measures can be found on the Facebook pages of each province’s public relations offices and shrines.

In some places, the entire festival may be banned. In Udon Thani, for example, a Dhamma club has announced that they will skip the vegetarian festival this year. The alms house, as well as the canteen, will be unavailable to prevent the spread of COVID-19.