Thousands of Buddhist devotees thronged Myanmar’s Shwedagon Pagoda to mark the full moon of the Thadingyut festival on Sunday, some offering prayers for a country plunged into turmoil by last year’s coup.
The three-day festival marks Buddha’s descent from heaven and is normally marked by riotous fireworks displays, with candles and colorful lanterns lighting up streets and homes.
Early morning crowds lined up in commercial hub Yangon to pray at the towering, gold-plated Shwedagon pagoda, Myanmar’s most important Buddhist site. Local chronicles say it contains strands of the Buddha’s hair.
Crowds packed in shoulder-to-shoulder to file up escalators and ascend the pointed structure that dominates the skyline of the country’s largest city.
Inside the main complex crowds shuffled along in gentle circumambulation, some stopping to take selfies, light candles or burn incense.
Others stood aside to say quiet prayers.
“We haven’t come here for years and so we left home early to avoid crowds but there were already many people at the pagoda,” said a man from Yangon’s Thone Gwa township. He did not want to give his name.
“I think people are struggling in their daily lives and they wanted to come out from home.”
The country has been in turmoil since the military ousted Aung San Suu Kyi’s government in 2021, with fighting continuing across many regions and the economy in tatters.
To mark Thadingyut last year the junta announced an amnesty for hundreds of protesters detained since the coup, sending families rushing to prison gates and sparking joyful reunions across the country.
The junta has so far not announced any amnesty to mark this year’s three-day festival, which ends on Monday.
“I pray for people who are displaced,” one woman told AFP amid the slowly-moving crowds, asking not to use her name.
“I want to see our country at peace but all I can do on this full moon day is to pray.”