A day of alms giving and a lot of weddings in Thailand

Buddhists gather at Wat Phra Mahathat Woramahawihan in Nakhon Si Thammarat to make merit on Makha Bucha Day.

THAILAND - Devout Buddhists around the country offered alms, made merit and joined a candle-lit procession to celebrate Makha Bucha Day yesterday.

As this also coincided with St Valentine's Day, it was common to see lovebirds registering their marriages at district offices with "lucky names". Activists in Chiang Mai also used the occasion to promote same-sex love and legal marriage.

At the capital's Sanam Luang, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA), Culture Ministry and Buddhist networks organised an offering of alms to 87 monks. Religious Affairs Department chief Kritsayapong Siri said they also hosted a nine-temple merit-making and a candle-lit procession around a Buddha relic temporarily enshrined at Sanam Luang.

At nearby Wat Saket (Golden Mountain), an offering of alms to 89 monks was also organised along with a dharma quiz and a prayer contest for students, before the picturesque candlelight procession on Golden Mountain in the evening.

In Nakhon Pathom's Buddha Monthon Buddhist Park, an offering of alms to 986 monks was held in the morning.

Privy Councillor Ampol Senanarong, on behalf of His Majesty the King, led a candlelight procession in the evening. New Supreme Patriarch Somdet Phra Maharatchamongkha-lachan also gave a sermon for the public.

Yala in the far South also saw events to make merit to mark this holiday, but Buddhists attended a candlelight procession at local temples earlier, at 4pm, for security reasons given the region's unrest.

Meanwhile, the BMA celebrated St Valentine's Day with an event titled "Promise of Love at Lak Si" at Lak Si District Office, where more than 100 couples were wed. Meanwhile, Bang Rak District Office, which was popular as its name means "Village of Love", had registered the marriage of 737 couples as of 11.30am.

The celebrations of love and marriage were held nationwide. In Chon Buri province, the Ripley's World of Entertainment Pattaya hosted the "World's Longest Marathon Hugging", which had 34 couples competing since Thursday. The contest ended at 3.40pm yesterday with 26 couples creating a new world-record time of 26 hours, 26 minutes and 26 seconds. The winners will share Bt300,000 (S$11,690) in cash.

Chanthaburi saw 14 couples wed at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, with the church also covering expenses for the newlyweds. In Surin, which is famous for elephants, 34 couples wed in local traditional style and registered their marriage on the back of an elephant. And some 15 couples wed in Phu Kradueng National Park in Loei.

At Chiang Mai's Tha Pae Gate, Mplus Foundation, a local HIV outreach group, hosted a wedding parade of 10 same-sex couples. They then marched to Muang Chiang Mai district to request symbolically the legal right for same-sex marriages.