Masked Makha Bucha in Thailand

Buddhist monks, clad in saffron robes and matching masks, marked the holy day of Makha Bucha on Wednesday with subdued celebrations at Wat Dhammakaya in Pathum Thani province, north of Bangkok.

Temples across Thailand downsized Makha Bucha celebrations when the pandemic began in 2020, with activities largely limited to monks and temple staff.

The event typically involves a traditional candlelit procession around a temple's ordination hall three times at sunset. Believers also meditate, chant and make offerings.

Thailand's Ministry of Culture announced this week that religious sites must subject visitors to mandatory mask-wearing rules and impose one-hour limits on religious ceremonies. Officials have also encouraged believers to take part in online ceremonies to contain the spread of Covid-19. As such, besides the monks' rituals, Wat Dhammakaya created a metaverse link and invited adherents to observe the holiday online this year.

Makha Bucha, which falls on the first full moon day of the third lunar month, celebrates Buddha's teachings and commemorates a gathering of the Buddha and 1,250 of his first disciples.

The holiday is most celebrated in Thailand - where more than 30,000 temples or wats observe the event - as well as other South-east Asian countries like Laos and Myanmar.

Thailand on Wednesday reported more than 16,000 new Covid-19 cases, the highest number of daily infections in months.

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