BANGKOK - Freedom of religion is protected by the constitution in Thailand, where about 95 percent of the population is Buddhist. Most Thai men aged over 20 are expected to be ordained as Buddhist monks, and stay monk for a period of time.
Thailand has roughly 300,000 Buddhist male monks but saffron-robed women are rarely seen because Thailand's conservative Buddhist monastic clergy, the Sangha Supreme Council, does not officially recognize and refuses to acknowledge Thai women to be ordained as female Buddhist monks, known as Bhikkhuni.
The full ordination of female monks in Thailand is forbidden under the Thai monastic clergy.
Dhammananda was the first Thai woman ordained as bhikkhuni, she received full ordination as a Theravada monk in 2003 in Sri Lanka, where female monks are common. Now she is the abbess of Songdhammakalyani Monastery, Thailand's first women only monk temple, located in Nakhon Pathom province near Bangkok.
The number of Thai Bhikkhuni has been growing and nowadays there are about 100 female monks nationwide. Dhammananda is now pushing for a change to restore the right of women to be recognized as bhikkhuni.
Thai student Jatuporn Kaewsaipan, 21, is among the many young men to be ordained as a monk for a one month period during his semester break, an epa journalist reports. Thai Buddhists believe that serving as a monk at least once in their lifetime to learn the precepts of Lord Buddha, is the best way to gain merit for the ordained and their parents.
On the eve of an ordination ceremony, a monk-to-be, male or female, wearing a white robe, has to ask his parents for forgiveness for the demeritorious deeds he or she has done.
The then parents or senior relatives cut the first piece of hair before other monks shave the rest of the hair and eyebrows.
Family members bless the monk-to-be by rubbing turmeric on their heads and bodies and bathe them to cleanse.
The ordination ceremony begins with a festive parade with family members, friends and guests.
A monk-to-be is carried on their shoulders to the ordination hall. Then he changes from his white robe into the saffron one, receives alms bowl and a monk's name to remind him of his new life's purpose.
Traditionally, the ordination ceremonies are held a few months before the rainy season.
Thai men usually stay in monkhood for a period from a few weeks to three months to learn Buddhist scriptures and practice Buddhist principles.
Each day in the early morning Buddhist monks wake up and chant until dawn, then they walk barefoot to collect alms and food offerings by devotees, before returning to the monastery for breakfast.
They then receive a blessing and have lunch before noon which is the last solid meal of the day. In the afternoon it is time to learn Dharma, the teachings of Buddha, and to work in the temple.