The procession is part of the katina cheevara (robe) offering, a highlight of the Katina Pinkama, a day of religious activities marking the end of the Vas Retreat, when Buddhist monks across Sri Lanka emerge from a three-month period of prayer and meditation. Considered one of the eight great meritorious acts of Theravada Buddhism, it takes place on a designated date between the full moon days of October and November.
How it all began
The practice originates in 6BC, India, the time of Gautama the Buddha, when monks were austere renunciates. Having turned their backs on ordinary life, they had to beg for alms, shelter and medicine. The four months of the Vassana or rainy season, from July to October, were fraught with storms, flooding and disease that often prevented them from getting basic necessities. So they stayed indoors in a monestary or forest retreat, for three of the four months, immersed in meditation and teaching, their needs met by laity.
Theravada Buddhists Across The World Celebrate The Katina Pinkama. The Buddha’s First Vas Retreat After His Enlightenment Was Spent In Isipathanaramaya, Varanasi, India
The Cheevaraya Is Prepared By Sewing Pieces Of Cloth Together, Following The Robes Of The Early Monks, Made Of Scraps Of Discarded Cloth From Cemeteries.
A single incident gave rise to the robe offering: a group of forest monks travelling to meet the Buddha after performing their Vas retreat were caught in a storm and arrived muddied and soaked. Owning only a trivaca (a robe of three parts), they had no change of clothing. Thus the Buddha gave them permission to accept a new robe. That act generated the practice of laity preparing robes for monks who have completed both the Vas retreat and the Pavarana ceremony, the final ritual, where monks evaluate their own and each other’s conduct to establish purity of their vinaya (code of discipline).
Day of Great Merit
The Katina Pinkama includes various activities. From the time the robe is handed over to a representative of the temple, there are bodhi poojas, danas and sermons. A kapruka (tree of plenty), usually a jak branch, is erected in the hall, for devotees to place offerings such as medicines, slippers and dry rations. A group of monks decide the recipient of the robe; needy monks are given priority, while seniority prevails thereafter. The robe is stitched within a day and night, and if necessary, dyed saffron. In the evening, the recepient monk delivers a sermon on the merits of the katina pinkama.
For both monks and devotees, Vas is time to accumulate great merit. It’s a give and take, with the benevolence of the laity allowing the monks to strengthen their vinaya, benefitting humanity. It’s also an excellent time to learn dharma from medicant monks remaining stationed in one place. Ordinary folk rejoice at the opportunity to take care of their monks and accumulate great merit.