Thai Buddhists mark holy day in subdued celebrations

Special Thai Buddhists mark holy day in subdued celebrations
Buddhist monks attend the Makha Bucha celebrations at Wat Dhammakaya temple in Pathum Thani province, north of Bangkok on February 16, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 16 February 2022

Thai Buddhists mark holy day in subdued celebrations

Thai Buddhists mark holy day in subdued celebrations
  • Some believers take part in candlelit circle-around rituals at local temples
  • Makha Bucha Day celebrates and honors Buddha’s teachings

BANGKOK: Thai Buddhists marked Makha Bucha Day on Wednesday in subdued celebrations, with some returning to traditional candle lit circle-around rituals at local temples in the third year of observing one of the religion’s holiest days during a pandemic.

Hundreds of people visited Bangkok’s most frequented temples during the day, including Wat Pho, to commemorate Makha Bucha Day.

Nittaya Duangdao, a volunteer staff member at Wat Pho, expected fewer participants to turn out for Wian Tian during the evening, as “people may still be concerned about COVID-19.”

Wian Tian, which refers to the candlelit procession and circling around the temple, is one of the hallmark rituals of the holy day. Believers also typically take part in meditations, chanting and making offerings of food, among other good deeds.

“In the last two years, only the monks and staff in the temple were allowed to do the activity (during Makha Bucha Day),” Duangdao told Arab News.

In early 2020, as COVID-19 infections began surging around the world, temples across Thailand were prohibited from allowing celebrations for Makha Bucha Day. While some temples allowed people to take part in rituals on a smaller scale in 2021, this year saw an easing of restrictions.

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.

Makha Bucha Day, which falls on the full moon day of the third lunar month annually, celebrates Buddha’s teachings and commemorates a gathering between the Buddha and 1,250 of his first disciples. The holiday is most celebrated in Thailand, as well as other Southeast Asian countries like Laos and Myanmar.

“As a Buddhist I feel that going to the temple and making merits makes me feel good, and I believe that it could bring a good thing to life,” Bowornluk Thongmark told Arab News.

Thailand on Wednesday reported more than 16,000 new COVID-19 cases, the highest number of daily infections in months, though still below its daily case peak of over 22,000. In the last three years, officials have encouraged believers to take part in online ceremonies to contain the spread of the disease.

The Dhammakaya Temple, located in the outskirts of Bangkok and known for its lantern ritual on Makha Bucha Day, created a metaverse link this year and invited adherents to commemorate the religious holiday online.

Though concerns for infections still linger in real life, Thongmark said: “At the end of the day, we will have to return to normal life.

“I think what we can do is to be careful to not spread the virus to others and be responsible to our community.”