A Guide to Bangkok’s Vegetarian Festival
The Vegetarian Festival in Bangkok is a mesmerizing cultural celebration that ushers in nine days of vegetarianism, prayer, and elaborate rituals. This annual event is marked by vibrant processions at local shrines, where participants display remarkable acts of devotion.
Official Name: Nine Emperor Gods Festival
Also Known As: Tesagan Gin Je
Name (Thai): เทศกาลกินเจ
Area(s): Talat Noi & Yaowarat
Entrance Fee(s): Free
The Vegetarian Festival, also known as Tesagan Gin Je, has a rich history intertwined with the cultural and religious traditions of Thailand. Its origins date back to the early 19th century when a group of Chinese opera performers, known as the “Ngor,” arrived in Thailand to entertain the Chinese immigrant community. However, the performers fell seriously ill, and upon adopting a vegetarian diet and following a series of rituals and ceremonies, they miraculously recovered.
This miraculous healing led to the development of the festival, which combined elements of Chinese Taoism and local Thai beliefs. Over time, the festival has grown to encompass not only the Chinese community but also Thai Buddhists who participate in the rituals as an act of merit-making and cleansing. The festival typically takes place in late September or early October, during the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar, and lasts for nine days.
In Bangkok, the Vegetarian Festival is celebrated mostly in the Yaowarat area and Talat Noi. Ceremonial rituals tend to revolve around the following sacred sites:
The schedule of the Vegetarian Festival in Bangkok unfolds as follows:
Day 1: The festival commences at the Chow Sue Kong Shrine in Talat Noi with a welcoming ceremony for the deities to ascend from the Chao Praya River and take residence at the shrine.
Day 2: Known as Chew Ik, this is the main day of celebration when worshippers gather at the sanctuary to pay homage to the dieties and perform acts of merit.
Day 4: Chew Sa typically coincides with a significant Thai Buddhist day, becoming a pivotal point within the festival’s schedule.
Day 7: Chew Lak marks the grandest Buddhist day of the festival. Participants engage in benevolent acts such as releasing fish, turtles, birds, and other creatures into the river and sky, driven by the belief that such acts of kindness will yield exceptional karma.
Day 8: Chew Chik features a Loy Kratong-style parade along the river route from Chow Sue Kong to various nearby temples, culminating with a return to Wat Mangkon.
Day 9: This day is characterized by merit-making ceremonies at 2 pm, followed by an enchanting dragon march procession in the evening at 6:00 pm along Yaowarat Road.
Everyday during the Vegetarian Festival in Bangkok, locals light candles and joss sticks at Chinese shrines as an act of devotion and to seek blessings from the dieties. This act is rooted in Taoist beliefs, where the lighting of these items invites the spirits of the dieties into one’s surroundings. It’s a way for participants to purify their surroundings and demonstrate their commitment to a virtuous way of life.
Following this act, participants often sprinkle holy water on each other’s heads with herbal stems, a symbolic purification ritual. The holy water, which has been blessed by monks, is believed to wash away negativity, cleanse the spirit, and create a sense of renewal.
Participants in the Vegetarian Festival adhere to a set of dietary rules for nine days. This includes consuming only vegan or Je (เจ) food, which excludes any form of meat or animal by-products. In addition to this, participants also avoid certain pungent vegetables and spices like onions, chillies, Chinese single-bulb garlic, and Chinese chive – even tobacco is strictly prohibited.
The emphasis is on purity and avoiding harm to any living beings. In Bangkok, particularly in areas like Chinatown, you can find a wide array of Je (เจ) options available throughout the festival. At shrines and along Yaowarat Road, skilled chefs prepare fresh vegan snacks and dishes, all day.
During the Vegetarian Festival, participants are required to wear white clothing as a symbol of purity and spiritual cleansing. The practice of wearing white underscores their adherence to the rules of the festival, signifying their intention to embrace the discipline of self-purification.
The strict rules for the festival participants, include:
While Bangkok hosts a vibrant celebration of the Vegetarian Festival, this unique and spiritually significant event is also observed in other parts of Thailand, especially in areas with significant Chinese-Thai communities. Two notable locations where the festival takes place with great enthusiasm are Phuket and Trang.
Phuket is internationally recognized for the size of its festivities (200,00+ participants), while Trang offers a smaller and more authentic citywide parade.
These destinations offer a distinct twist to the Vegetarian Festival, as participants engage in extreme acts of self-mortification, with devotees piercing or cutting their cheeks and tongues with various objects.
The Thai Vegetarian Festival is primarily a time for spiritual purification and merit-making for participants who abstain from consuming meat, animal products, and certain strong-smelling vegetables. They aim to cleanse their bodies and minds, seek blessings, and show their commitment to ethical and virtuous living.
During the Vegetarian Festival in Bangkok, you can witness a rich tapestry of cultural and religious festivities. These include mesmerizing Chinese opera performances that depict ancient tales, intricate dragon and lion dances that symbolize power and good fortune, acrobatic displays showcasing incredible feats of balance and strength, candle lighting rituals where devotees pay homage to deities, and grand parades that wind through the streets of Chinatown.