Temple of Zoom: 200,000 Thai Buddhists mark holy day via video link

Buddhist monks hold candles during a ceremony to commemorate Makha Bucha Day at the Wat Phra Dhammakaya temple, following the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Pathum Thani province, Thailand, February 26, 2021. Picture taken with long exposure. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

BANGKOK (Reuters) - More than 200,000 Buddhist devotees gathered via Zoom video link on Friday to attend an annual prayer and lantern ritual held in Thailand to mark Makha Bucha Day, one of the religion's holiest holidays.

The ritual began with a prayer in Pali, the language of ancient Buddhist scriptures, from a podium inside a sacred stupa after which hundreds of saffron-robed monks lit a sea of lanterns amid chanting.

Makha Bucha Day, one of the most important Buddhist festivals, usually attracts tens of thousands of believers to the Dhammakaya Temple on the outskirts of Bangkok.

But this year the temple has organised a 280-meter-long LED screen where devotees can attend virtually as a precaution measure because of COVID-19 restrictions.

"Due to the COVID-19 situation, we are holding an online ceremony this year. Normally, there will be hundreds of thousands of devotees who attend and light the lanterns here," Pha Sanitwong Wuttisangwo, the temple's director of communications, told Reuters.

"With the technology that we have today, we are able to connect with people via Zoom so that devotees can join us online."

The participants were mostly Thai but Buddhist devotees from other countries also attended.

A select group of 1,000 white-clad devotees were physically present at the temple to light lanterns on behalf of the virtual participants.

The festival commemorates the day when 1,250 monks gathered to be ordained by the Buddha more than 2,500 years ago.

(Writing by Juarawee Kittisilpa and Kay Johnson; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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