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This festival is known as Tetsakaan gin jay. Tetsakaan means festival, while gin jay means to eat Chinese vegetarian food.

When Is The Festival?

The vegetarian festival is an annual event, held in the ninth lunar month, according to the Chinese calendar. It starts on the first day of the waxing moon and lasts for 9 days. The festival usually falls in the month of October.

What Is Chinese Vegetarian Food?

Chinese vegetarian food or jay is any food without meat, poultry, seafood, eggs and animal products.
Visit the vegetarian festival in Thailand in October
Furthermore, jay food excludes 4 kinds of pungent vegetables; including garlic, onion, Chinese single-bulbed garlic and Chinese chive.

During the festival the participants also refrain from smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol.

The strong qualities of these vegetables are believed to stimulate sexual desire, which makes it more difficult to be mindful. In addition, these vegetables destroy the 5 elements in the body, which in turn has negative effects on five main inner organs - heart, kidneys, spleen, liver and lungs.

Thai vegetarian food is called mungsawirat. There are two groups of Thai vegetarians in Thailand. The first one doesn't eat dairy products and egg, which is comparable to being a vegan in the West.

The second group eats dairy products and egg. The latter group is comparable to being a lacto-ovo vegetarian.

Vegetarian Festival Origins

The vegetarian festival was brought to Phuket and Trang, in the south of Thailand, by Chinese boatmen in the 19th century.

These Chinese had strong beliefs in Taoism.

Taoists worship nine Gods. These Gods are believed to take the form of planets and have direct influence on the 5 elements (earth, water, wind, fire and gold), that make up the physical body.

In the beginning, only the Chinese-Thai partook in the vegetarian festivals, but over time it's grown into a nationwide practice.

There are many devoted Chinese-Thai who eat jay food all year round. These Buddhists practice at the temple regularly.

Purpose Of Eating Chinese Vegetarian Food

To cut down on the number of animal lives that otherwise would be killed for food.

To plant the seeds of kindness in one's heart in order to cleanse the mind.

To have good health and longevity.

Main Food Sources Of Chinese Vegetarian Food

Soy sauce and mushroom sauce for vegetarians in Thailand
Chinese vegetarians get their proteins and nutrients from soy beans, tofu, soy products, imitation meats, other beans and vegetables.

The main source of calcium is roasted black sesame seeds.

Fish sauce that is a popular seasoning in Thai dishes is replaced with soy sauce and mushroom sauce.

Jay Flag

During the Chinese vegetarian festival, all the restaurants and food stalls that sell jay food put up yellow flags.
Vegetarian restaurants in Thailand put up yellow flags
These flags feature the word jay in Thai or Chinese.

Jay Practitioners

Most people associate jay food with not eating any meat, but the true meaning of jay is observing the 8 precepts. One of which is not eating after midday.

When the Chinese character (in the word jay) is studied in detail, we learn that every brush stroke carries a deeper meaning and outline how we should live our lives.

Not only do true jay practitioners eat Chinese vegetarian food, they also give attention to what they say, do and think. One could say that jay is a combination of vegetarianism and mindfulness practice.

Self-Mutilation Practices

The vegetarian festival is the most colorful event in Phuket and Trang, where a number of participants called mah song do self-mutilation practices; such as sticking swords through their cheeks and walking bare feet on hot charcoal.

Each mah song invites a God to possess his body. Then, he performs the self-mutilation without feeling any pain.

The spectators pay homage to the gods, that possess the bodies of the mah song, by lighting firecrackers when the mah song walk past.

Strict devotees wear white and spend the whole period eating jay food and practicing in the temple.

Don't miss out on delicious Chinese vegetarian foods if you'll be in Thailand during the vegetarian festival!

Just make sure you keep an eye on your weight because there are lots of yummy deep-fried foods.

Many thanks to Pa Pang, the owner of Raan Pa Pang vegetarian restaurant in Klongwahn, Prachuap for assisting with resources and information.

Suggested Reading:   Loy Kratong Festival   Thai Sticky Rice

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