September 30, 2016
This annual 30 day festival is celebrated across Thailand and where its people pay their respects to the Buddhist Faith
When: Annually the day after Wan Ok Phansa (October)
Where: Across the Kingdom of Thailand
The Thord Gathin Festival is a 30 day festival that is celebrated from the last day of Buddhist lent. In Thailand the three month period of Lent (July – October) is called Wan Khao Phansa while the last day is called Wan Ok Phansa . this auspicious time is possibly the most important religious day in the Thai calendar.
Wan Ok Phansa (Thai: วันออกพรรษา; literally “the Final Day of the Vassa“) falls annually on the full moon of the eleventh lunar month (16th October 2016) This eagerly awaited day is full of joyful celebration and merit-making, for many families it is also the day they welcome back a son into the home and for them to celebrate his successful completion of a term in the temple.
Here in Thailand for most of the year there are around 200,000 monks and 85,000 novices, these numbers increase during the Buddhist ‘lent’ to 300,000 and 100,000 respectively. Young boys may become novices at any age, but a man cannot become a monk until he reaches the age of twenty. He can then remain a monk for as long as he wishes, even for just one day. Three months is more usual, although some choose to remain in monkhood for the rest of their lives.
Thord Gathin Festival or Thod Kathin (Thai: ทอดกฐิน) or Kathin Laen or simply as the Kathin Ritual, is celebrated across the Kingdom, with each village, town, city or province adding its own unique twist to the festivities and in some cases an additional name. This is in part due to the many cultures that make up this diverse country and their collective interpretation of Buddhist teachings.
The Kathin Ritual is also celebrated in the neighbouring countries, of Lao, Cambodia and Burma; where it is known as Kahtein. It is a time for temple grounds to be transformed into venues for traditional dancers, music and food stalls. It also allows those attending the Kathin Ritual to earn merit through the offering of robes to the the bhikkhus (Buddhist monks). Thord Gathin takes its name from the “laying down” of new robes to the monks.
To make merit, plays such a large part in Thai Buddhist culture, donating new robes to a monk is one of the most praiseworthy acts a lay person can make. (“TAK BAT” – ตักบาตร means giving alms to monks). Most Thais have a general belief that what you do in this life will affect you equally in the same manner in the next life e.g. ‘good brings good’ & ‘bad brings bad’. There are 10 ways of ‘Making Merit’, all of which help to demonstrate a good path, in one’s current life and will be repaid to the giver, in future reincarnations.
‘Merit’ is not charity as perceived by western people and it is offensive to many Buddhist followers to hear others imply that when monks leave their temples to gather alms (known as “BIN THA BAT” – บิณฑบาตร), that this is in some way begging. Buddhist people believe the giving of alms is a way of connecting the giver to the monk or nun and to show humbleness and respect to what they represent.
The Kathin Ritual
The actual Kathin Robe Offering Ritual is a wonderful Buddhist tradition that has been preserved for over 2500 years. This ancient custom was established by the Buddha and allows lay people to offer robes to monks who have spent three months during Buddhist Lent purifying their mind and body. The ceremony has six precepts that must be adhered to, they are:
1) Kathin has to be conducted within one month after the final day of Buddhist Lent
2) The offering is made to the entire monastic community, not to any one particular monk
3) It can only be conducted only once a year
4) In order to conduct Kathin, there has to be a minimum of five monks who had stayed within a specific temple during the entire three months of Buddhist Lent
5) The monk chosen to receive the Kathin Robe must complete the ritual to contemplate the robe the same day that it is offered
6) The Robe has to be one of the monk’s set of three robes. Sanghati, (the most external robe), is traditionally chosen.
The Kathin Festivities across the Kingdom
This 30 day period of Kathin, is synonymous with offering of new, saffron robes to the monks and is particularly meritorious and important, other alms will also be donated to the monk’s, but do not play a part in the Kathin ritual, these includes goods for their every day needs such as, toiletries, writing materials, candles and food. This is also a time when Money Trees in Thailand are presented to the temples; the donated money attached to these highly decorated trees is used for the upkeep of the Wat.
There are a multitude of events right across the Kingdom listed here are just a few that we have written about. The people of the north eastern province of Mukdahan have their Chula kathin Festival where the preparations start 6 months prior to the festival and are similar to the Shan/Burmese festival of Tazaungdine where robes are weaved in a 24 hour long marathon. The Shan of northern Thailand have their own festival – Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu Worshiping Ceremony which has similarities to the nationwide Loy Krathong festival and regional Lanna, Yi Peng Festival.
Also in the former Kingdom of Lanna -“Kingdom of a Million Rice Fields” at Wat Prathat Lampang Luang, Lampang Province, the people celebrate the Luang Wiang Lakhon Fair (งานหลวงเวียงละคอน), which includes antiquated household appliances and utensils.
Bin Tha Bat – Monks Alms Rounds
While the Thord Gathin Festival is an annual occurrence spread over 30 days, alms giving is a daily ritual in the Kingdom; Monks will leave their Wat each morning at around 5 -6 am, (except during the 3 months’ Buddhist lent, when they are prohibited from leaving their temples), having risen at 4 am, meditated for one hour, followed by one hour of chanting. During their alms rounds, they will carry their alms bowl (บาตร) with both hands held close to the stomach, the bowl is seen as the monk’s emblem and according to Buddhist rules, it is the only dish that monks can possess.
Traditionally the monks walk bare footed in a straight line one by one. (But can be seen in boats in the many Thai Khlongs ). The oldest or the temple abbot leads the monks, while the others follow by seniority.
Tradition has it that the elder matron or her youngest daughter will wait kneeling in front of the house, (Thai men will stand). The people greet the monks through a “WAI” (ไหว้) and put food inside the bowl. At no time must the women touch the monks or their belongings. This is a silent ritual and no words are spoken by either party, but if a young novice receives food from his mother, he can bless her.
The monks do not thank the lay people for the food nor will they look directly at the women. Offering food is one of the oldest and most common rituals of Buddhism and is a meritorious act that also reminds a Buddhist not to be greedy or selfish. In this daily occurrence the giving and receiving of alms creates a spiritual connection between the monastic and lay communities – Laypeople have a responsibility to support the monks physically, and the monks have a responsibility to support the community spiritually.
If a monk bowl falls in front of a hose, it is seen as a bad omen.
As a village or specific area can contain several Buddhist temples, the respective abbots agree the path reserved for each temple. The same Abbotts will also agree which monk’s will receive any donated robes
If the bowl becomes full, the monk will replace the lid (ฝาบาตร), in order that laypeople can place the last food offerings on top of it. Offerings are normally simply cooked rice but people also offer curry dishes, sweets, fruits, flowers, or incense sticks.
The monks will then return to the Wat, at around 8am, where they will share the food with the temple community, after which they will then make a blessing for world peace. Before 12.00 noon – Some monks choose to eat again as this is the last solid food they are allowed to consume until sunrise the following morning.
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