12 JULY 2014 - PHRA PHUTTHABAT, SARABURI, THAILAND: A monk leads a chanting service before the Tak Bat Dok Mai at Wat Phra Phutthabat in Saraburi province of Thailand. Wat Phra Phutthabat is famous for the way it marks the beginning of Vassa, the three-month annual retreat observed by Theravada monks and nuns. The temple is highly revered in Thailand because it houses a footstep of the Buddha. On the first day of Vassa (or Buddhist Lent) people come to the temple to "make merit" and present the monks there with dancing lady ginger flowers, which only bloom in the weeks leading up Vassa. They also present monks with candles and wash their feet. During Vassa, monks and nuns remain inside monasteries and temple grounds, devoting their time to intensive meditation and study. Laypeople support the monks by bringing food, candles and other offerings to temples. Laypeople also often observe Vassa by giving up something, such as smoking or eating meat. For this reason, westerners sometimes call Vassa "Buddhist Lent."
PHOTO BY JACK KURTZ