14 December 2011
According to popular legend, in 1825 a traveling Chinese opera company, ngiu in Thai or pua-hee in Hokkien dialect, came to perform in Naithu Village, Kathu. After a time, many of the performers became terribly sick, and they decided that the cure was to eat only vegetables as they had done in China, in an act of contrition or expurgation for the sins incurred by the killing and consumption of animals. The ill members of the group were miraculously healed, and so the Chinese immigrants arranged for a festival to be held again the next year, and every year since. Thus, many believe holding it helps prevent illness, death and the loss of innocent lives in the community by promoting physical and spiritual recovery through ritual practices that cleanse the body and mind while strengthening the faith. In preparation for the Festival, each shrine burns incense sticks to purify the surroundings, bringing forth an assembly of buddhas, bodhisattvas, gods and angels, and driving away demons from the holy grounds. Most shrines in Phuket conduct a Pangkun Ceremony, representing the sending of one’s soldiers in different directions to watch over and guard the perimeter of the city holding the Vegetarian Festival. Each direction has a colour, defined by a flag, black for northern troop, red for southern, green for eastern, a white flag for the western troop and yellow for the royal troop.