Spring torch rite begins in ancient Japanese capital of Nara

An annual torch ceremony heralding the arrival of spring has begun at Todaiji Temple in the ancient Japanese capital of Nara.

The traditional fire and water ceremony called "Shuni-e," also known as "Omizutori," dates back to the 8th century Nara period. Buddhist monks engage in ascetic training for about one month, praying for national stability.

The main ritual called "Otaimatsu" began on Wednesday night. Guided by large torches, monks made their way to the temple's Nigatsudo hall.

Spectators cheered as assistants of the monks, each holding one of the torches, ran and scattered sparks from the hall's balustrades.

One visitor said she watched the ritual hoping for world peace and the end of the coronavirus pandemic.

The ritual runs through March 14. The event is not opened to the public on March 11 and 12 as part of anti-coronavirus measures. A limited number of visitors are allowed to watch on other days.