However, today there is more than just one “Vegetarian Festival”, raising concerns about preserving the originality of the festival, which for years has had “copycat” versions erode the authenticity the Phuket-born event.
Many other Chinese communities in Thailand now host their own versions of the Vegetarian Festival, including the renowned Yaowarat district in Bangkok, better known simply as Chinatown.
The Phuket News understands how citizens in the capital of this Bangkok-centric nation might find this southern festival a little hard to swallow as Thai culture. Traditionally, folk from the northern reaches of the Kingdom tend to dictate what is “Thai” and what is not.
The Vegetarian Festival is Thai and it is culture, regardless what some people’s interpretations of the festival may be. Living culture is exactly what the people of the day make it, whether it be being polite and respecting elders, honouring gods for blessings of purity or singing karaoke.
It is true that many shrines have flourished in the past decade or so that the festival has been promoted commercially, but that does negate the fact that the festival traces its routes back 191 years – long before any thoughts of tourism to this fair isle began – to the festival’s home shrine in the small village of Baan Kathu.
The practices of the modern-day incarnation of the Vegetarian Festival may have stepped away from the original ablutions all those years ago, but that is what happens to traditional festivals anywhere in the world. For instance, who could claim that the festivities of Christmas or Halloween are anything like the original celebrations?
On that note, in preserving the festival’s own “purity”, shrine administrators over the years have struggled to curtail the spectacle of non-traditional items used for face piercings, such as bicycle parts, six-shooter handguns and beach umbrellas, but they seem to have finally won that battle.
The Phuket Vegetarian Festival is our festival. Let’s keep it that way. Be proud of the odd cultural melting pot that Phuket has been for centuries, one that firmly includes expats, and let’s lead the way in defining our own culture.