Bangkok, Thailand – As part of an annual event, 10,000 Buddhist monks gathered in Bangkok’s commercial heartland in a mass alms-offering ceremony. Thousands of worshippers lined the route on Sunday with dried food and drinks ready to donate as the sun rose over the Thai capital.
The food and supplies collected were reportedly to be donated to other monks and civil servants working in Thailand’s restive southern provinces, where a violent insurgency rages on that has killed about 6,000 people since 2004.
Buddhist monks – seen by some as a symbol of the Thai state in the Malay-Muslim dominated southern region – are a regular target of the rebel fighters in drive-by shootings – and even beheadings.
The gathering in Bangkok was organised by the controversial Wat Phra Dhammakaya, a Buddhist temple on the outskirts of the city renowned for its mass gatherings, in which symmetry and discipline play an integral role.
The temple has faced criticism in Thailand, however, described by some as a “cult” and derided by critics as little more than a commercial venture, preying on the vulnerable who are fooled into believing they can literally buy a better place in their next life.
Notably, the mass gathering, which was officially endorsed, was the first large street congregation since a military coup six months ago, after which martial law dictated that the assembly of more than five people was illegal.