Vegetarians to fork out more during fest due to higher costs

Hard at work: Tow Boo Kong temple assistants Ng Kheng Hwa (right) and Ong San Sia making a boat for the upcoming Nine Emperor Gods festival at the temple in Butterworth, Penang. — ASRI ABDUL GHANI / The Star

GEORGE TOWN: Devotees on a vegetarian diet during the Nine Emperor Gods festival will have to pay more due to the weakening ringgit and costlier raw ingredients and imported canned food.

Several vegetarian food operators said they would increase the price between 10 sen and RM1 during the festival which starts tomorrow.

Vegetarian stall operator Lee Eng Kok, 54, said he would charge 10 sen extra for drinks, 50 sen and RM1 more for noodles and vegetarian bak kut teh respectively.

“This is due to the weakening ringgit, which has led to higher costs when we import goods.

“Besides paying more for ingredients, I also need to pay my 40 workers daily wages. I will be operating for 24-hours until the last day of the festival,” Lee said here yesterday.

Nevertheless, Lee remains optimistic, saying that he foresees more people observing a strict vegetarian diet during the festival this year.

“From my experience, many people will keep to a strict vegetarian diet during an economic downturn.

“Devotees would seek favours and make vows for a better and more prosperous year ahead,” Lee added.

Popularly known as Kew Ong Yeah among the locals, the festival begins on the first day of the ninth lunar month.

During this period, Chinese Taoists observe a strict vegetarian diet for nine days.

Several streets here have been turned into fairgrounds as makeshift vegetarian stalls, decorated with yellow flags and buntings, sprouting up for the annual festival.

Hindu devotees will also go on a strict vegetarian diet during this period to observe the Navarathiri Festival, where devotees worship the three goddesses – Durga (Goddess of Bravery), Lakshmi (Goddess of Wealth) and Saraswathi (Goddess of Knowledge) – for nine days.

At the Tow Boo Keong temple in Jalan Raja Uda, preparations were in full swing to usher in the festival.

Temple chairman Khor Wan Tat said the number of devotees had increased over the years.

“Today, we will invite the Nine Emperor Gods from the seas to start the festival tomorrow and we are expecting a big crowd during the prayer session.

“On Thursday, there will be an oil cooking ritual, followed by the grand procession on Saturday and the fire walking ceremony on Monday,” he said.

The festival is dedicated to the nine sons of Tou Mu – Goddess of the North Star, who is said to control the Books of Life and Death.

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