About 2,000 monks from various townships in Yangon marched barefoot to the Shwedagon Pagoda where they congregated after noon Saturday, chanting Buddhist prayers in a passive show of defiance against Burma's junta, eyewitnesses said.
Another 1,000 monks marched to Kabaraye pagoda, in Mayangon township, a Yangon suburb. Monks have been marching against the regime in Yangon since Tuesday and have thus far avoided reprisals.
Thousands of laymen joined the marches, cheering the saffron and maroon-robed monks on in their fifth day of protest marches.
There were reports of similar marches in Mandalay, where more than 2,000 monks marched against the regime.
More mass prayers and marches are planned for Sunday.
The monks' protest movement appears to have caught Burma's military junta off guard.
"It may really do something," said one long-time Burma analyst. "What they never considered was the monk factor," said the western consultant, who asked to remain anonymous.
Burma's military has kept a tight lid on discontent for the past 19 years, cracking down on all shows of student-led protests and dissent from opposition politicians such as the Aung San Suu Kyi supporters.
The monkhood, which has been controlled by "government monks" in the past, may prove the unanticipated factor in the junta's power equation.
Thus far, only a fraction of Burma's 100,000-strong monkhood has joined the non-violent movement to protest the country's deteriorating economic conditions since mid-August when the government more than doubled fuel prices, exacerbating inflation which has been in the double-digit range for the past two years.
It remains unclear whether the Sangha, the senior monks who control the monkhood, are supporting the protests.
The anti-inflation protests that started on August 19 were first led by political activists and members of the opposition party led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, but this month monks joined in the fray.
On September 5, Buddhist monks took to the streets in Pakokku, 530 kilometres north of Yangon, to protest the fuel price hikes and the arrests of more than 100 protestors in Yangon.
Government thugs attacked the monks, prompting a temple to hold a dozen officers hostage the next day. Since then there have been widespread reports of monk-led protests in central Burma and attacks on pro-government officials.
The monks' movement has put Burma's regime in an awkward position. If the rulers do not crack down on the protests, the demonstrations are likely to spread, but if they attacked the monks, they would enrage the people.
Buddhist monks have a long history of political activism in Burma, a predominantly Buddhist country.
The monkhood played a prominent role in Myanmar's struggle for independence from Great Britain, which came in 1948, and joined students in the anti-military demonstrations that rocked Burma in 1988 and ended in bloodshed.
Like the recent protests, the 1988 mass demonstrations were sparked by rising discontent with the military's mismanagement of the economy and refusal to introduce some semblance of democracy.
On September 8, 1988, the army cracked down on the pro-democracy movement, leaving an estimated 3,000 dead.
The generals at the time vowed to never allow a repeat of 1988, a vow they have carried out through the suppression of any show of unrest in the country.
Although the military allowed a general election in 1990, it ignored the outcome when 80 per cent of the votes went to the National League for Democracy, Suu Kyi's party. Its reaction made the junta a pariah in the West.
Suu Kyi has been under house arrest since May 2003. Her ongoing incarceration is harshly criticized by Western democracies and many of Burma's Asian neighbours.