A good friend of mine (who I actually met through studying French) found out about my culture blog and told me about this ceremony that she participates in. Her name is Hirudinee Manukulasuriya and she is a buddhist from Sri Lanka. As we are both quite interested in learning about different cultures, she generously invited me into hers. I also had the chance to interview her about the ceremony, (which you can read more about below). I chose to write about this ceremony because of the significance it has to Buddhism. Religion is another aspect of culture just as language is, so even though Katina is more of a religious ceremony than a cultural one, it still allows one to explore the background and heritage of a group of people. Seeing as how many people (myself included) know little about Sri Lankan culture and even about Buddhism I thought this was a great opportunity to learn more and explore their rich history.
History of the Katina Ceremony
The Katina ceremony originates back to the time of the Buddha.
A group of 30 monks or bhikkus, once took a journey to spend their retreat season with the Buddha. But before they could get there, the Vassa or rains retreat began in which the monks are required to stop any traveling and live together in peace.
“Buddhist monks live a simple life in order to eradicate desire for worldly pleasures. Life of the monks depends on the collected alms as food, and on robes made from patched up rags. They never request food, robes or anything else” (Manukulasuriya).
Thai Prime Minister Abhisit offering Kathina robes to monks at 2010 Kathina. Photo from WikiMedia Commons.
The monks found a place to stay together to wait out the monsoon season. They were disappointed about not being able to spend this time with Buddha, but made the best of it nevertheless, by meditating and studying together.
As soon as the monsoon season ended, the monks continued their travels.
“During the raining season in Buddha’s time, monks experienced hardships when going for alms and their robes got dirty. So, Buddha allowed monks to stay in a house/temple if devotees/lay people requested”(Manukulasuriya).
When Buddha heard of the monks’ hardships, he allowed them to accept cloth from the lay people for new robes.
Once they had enough cloth, the monks were to sew a robe using a method which required the use of a frame called the Katina. It is here that the festival draws its name (Kathina, 2015).
“During this period, lay people offered food, medicine, etc. and took care of the monks. The monks practiced meditation all day and some of them became enlightened”
Besides the cloth for the robe, lay people also offer the bhikkus other gifts such as sugar, tea, coffee, and balms. “Each devotee brings whatever he/she can afford and knows will be of use to the monks” (samadhibuddhistvihara.org).
According to Buddha, the cloth for the robe must be offered to the entire Sangha commmunity. Then, they decide who will receive the gift (BBC.CO.UK).
In addition to receiving the robe, the nominated monk also enjoys five privileges:
“(i) he is free to go to a meal invitation without having informed another monk.
(ii) Usually monks use a full set of three robes, but he is allowed to go without taking a full set robes according to a specific period of time without any fault.
(iii) He can enjoy a group meal (with four or more monks).
(iv) He can use as many as robes as he likes
(v) Finally, he can receive other robes offered to the Buddhist Saṅgha during the period of rainy season and on the occasion of the Kaṭhina ceremony” (BUDDHISTDOOR.NET).Kathina festival in Thailand. Photo from WikiMedia Commons.
“By taking care of the monks, lay people accumulated wholesome karma” (Manukulasuriya).
Around the World
As it is a very significant ceremony for Buddhists, the Katina ceremony takes place in various temples all around the world:
Katina is the largest celebrated festival among traditional Buddhists around the world.
It now begins very early in the morning. “Throughout the day, Buddhists enjoy the ceremony with cultural entertainment and performing many meritorious acts. According the schedule, it begins early in the morning. People gather in the monastery, undertake the five precepts, and listen to Dhamma talks. The first session is concluded before noon. Thereafter, the devotees serve a meal to the Sangha and enjoy whatever is left over” (BUDDHISTDOOR.NET)
Depending on the rainy season of each country, the date of the Katina varies from place to place. Generally, it occurs within the months of October and November (Kathina, 2015).
“Even today during the raining season, Buddhist lay people invite monks to stay in the temple and take care of them while they practice meditation. This practice ends on the full moon day, and devotees offer monks robes, which is the Katina Ceremony” (Manukulasuriya).
Now, the lay people often offer ready-made robes to the Sangha for Katina.
Because the Katina is a gift from the devotees, no monk is allowed to request or organize the ceremony.
After receiving the robes, monks participate in other religious practices and the lay people perform cultural activities such as singing Buddhist songs and having traditional dances.
This year in Sri Lanka, Katina took place on November 15.
“Kathina Ceremony, Buddhist Kathina Ceremony Festival, Guide
to Kathina Ceremony in Buddhism.” Kathina Ceremony,
Buddhist Kathina Ceremony Festival, Guide to Kathina Ceremony
in Buddhism. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Nov. 2015. <http://www.
Manukulasuriya, Hirudinee. “Katina Ceremony.” Personal
interview. 4 Nov. 2015.