Kathina (Robe Offering) Ceremony කඨින පින්කම
The Kathina festival is a major observance of Theravada Buddhism. It is a festival that takes place during the months of October and November. For 2500 years families have gathered to take part in the largest alms-giving ceremony of the Buddhist year. Friends, old and new, parents and children join together in a celebration on the theme of harmony. Kathina occurs at the end of the Vassa. During this three month retreat, the residents of the monastery have been obliged by their Rule not to travel unless absolutely necessary; now some of them will move on. This may mean resuming the life of a mendicant wanderer, or going to live in another monastery - so it's a time for leave-taking and extending a welcome. Also, as winter approaches, the supporters are checking to see that the basic needs of the samanas are being met. It is with regard to the offering of these requisites that this festival comes about.
According to the scriptures, a group of thirty bhikkhus (monks) were journeying together with the intention of spending the retreat season with the Buddha. However the Vassa began before they reached their destination and it was required that they stop travelling. Accordingly, although they lived harmoniously during the retreat, the bhikkhus were unhappy at not being able to be with the Master. When they were allowed to travel again, the bhikkhus continued on to see the Buddha. Hearing of their unhappy sojourn, he decided to cheer them up by allowing them to roam freely after the Rains Retreat to gather cloth for robes. The Buddha knew that nothing is so uplifting as sharing and generosity, and so then established a procedure whereby the bhikkhus could agree among themselves to make a gift of the cloth so acquired to one of their number. And so, when they had enough cloth, the bhikkhus set about sewing a robe. In those days the method used involved spreading the pieces of cloth on a frame and stitching them together. This frame was called a Kathina.
From that time until now, lay supporters have made a point of offering cloth at the end of the Vassa; it being allowed that this offering can take place at any time during the four weeks following the end of the retreat. The Sangha are not allowed to request the offering, so it is important that the initiation of the offering and its organisation be done entirely by the lay people. Actually, the ceremony is held in such high esteem that it is rare that the Kathina doesn't take place and supporters will usually agree on a date with the abbot of the monastery well in advance. The cloth, according to the Buddha's advice, must be offered to the whole Sangha, not to any particular individual, so that the bhikkhus have to formally agree as to which of them should receive the cloth. About three metres of cloth are needed: enough to make up at least one of the main robes. Once the cloth has been offered, the entire community tries to take part in the activity of sewing the new robe, it being stipulated that this robe be cut, sewn and finished before the dawn of the next day. Until recent times finishing always involved dyeing the robe as well, and even today, in traditional forest monasteries in Burma and Thailand, white cloth is given and whilst some of the bhikkhus are cutting and sewing, others are preparing the bath of natural dye.
Usually one person has undertaken the task of co-ordinating the occasion; this work may have started as far back as the Kathina of the previous year. Although all that is required is enough cloth to make up one robe, it's usually the case that all sorts of things are offered: everything from socks to tools to stamps and winter fuel. On the day of the festival people begin arriving at the monastery early - some may have come the night before. Bhikkhus and nuns from other monasteries will have been invited and be gathering also. By about 10:00 a.m. everyone is beginning to settle and at around 10.30 a.m. a meal is offered to the Sangha and then everyone helps themselves to the remainder of the food. About 1.00 p.m. the ceremonial offering of cloth and requisites takes place with one donor leading the assembly of lay people in taking the Refuges and Precepts and then announcing the offering using the following formula. This would be done in both Pali and English.
"May we venerable Sirs, present these robes together with the other requisites to the Sangha. So, Venerable Sirs, please accept these robes and the other requisites from us, for our long-lasting welfare and happiness."
The cloth is formally presented to two bhikkhus who have been agreed upon by the Sangha. In turn they announce the donation of all the Kathina offerings and then nominate one senior and well-respected member of the community to receive the robe once it has been made up. The unanimous agreement in silence by the Sangha is strengthened by the collective utterance of "Sadhu" (it is well). At this point some of the bhikkhus leave and begin cutting the cloth. Later, others will join them. The formal Sangha Act (Sangha Kamma) of receiving a Kathina offering will be completed later in the evening (sometimes very late depending on whether or not the sewing goes smoothly) when the finished robe is ceremonially presented to the appointed bhikkhu.
2016 Katina Pinkama Contributing families
Anjana Jayasinghe & Shanika Rasanjalee
Darshini Ariyaratna & family
Isuru Palliyaguru & Harsha Priyabhani
Jayanath Yapa & Ramani Yapa
Singithi Lakruwan & Yamuna Rathanayaka
Shehan S Fernando & Nawodha