Yala: Wian Thian in a rush

Buddhists in insurgent wracked Yala were advised not wait until moonrise tonight for the traditional 'wian thian' candlelight ceremony - so they rushed to get it done in the daylight hours, starting around noon.

Wian thian, a ceremony in which worshippers holding candles move in a circle clockwise around a Buddha statue in a show of highest respect, is an essential element of Buddhist holy days.

Today is Asalaha Bucha, commemorating the day the Gautama Buddha first addressed his first five followers in the forest.

The ceremony is traditionally held at night, but in southernmost Yala officials asked the 17 temples celebrating Asalaha Bucha to perform the ceremony around mid-day or early evening at latest.

They said a moonrise celebration might be dangerous for monks and Buddhists in the Muslim-dominated province where separatist attacks are an almost daily event.

At Wat Lak Ha in Yala’s Muang district, wian thian quickly followed merit-making, which started at 10.45am.
As monks led Buddhists in a procession around the Buddha image, soldiers stood on guard against attacks.

There were no reports of violence in Yala, but in adjoining Pattani province a 16-year-old boy was killed and two other people wounded when a gunman opened fired in a morning market today.

The day marks the first teaching of Lord Buddha more than 2,000 years ago, which gave rise to the first monk in Buddhism, who was a Brahmin man named Kondanna.

Except for the security-conscious atmosphere in the deep South, other provinces marked the day's importance in cheerful mood, ahead of the start of Buddhist Lent, Khao Phansa, on Saturday.

Many link the occassions with tourism. In Surin, known for its famous elephant festival, monks were urged to collect morning alms on the back of elephants.

Nonthaburi, where the Chao Phraya river runs through the province, held the traditional procession of the Buddhist Lent candles, a symbol of intelligence, on the water. Giant, beautifully-crafted candles were carried by 50 boats to Wat Bot Bon in Bang Kluai district. The temple will later share them out to 48 other temples in the province.

In Ubon Ratchathani, in the far northeast, the celebration was more political. Candles were sculptured in the figures of out-going PM Abhisit Vejjajiva shaking hands with the apparent incoming prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra of the rival Pheu Thai Party.

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