FEATURE: Kathin festival strengthens Buddhism, supports temple restoration
VIENTIANE (Vientiane Times/ANN) - Merit makers from the capital and Savannakhet, Champassak, Saravan and Vientiane provinces, as well as Thailand, last week gathered at Kheery Vongkot Thammaram temple in Champassak for the annual Kathin festival.
This colourful event centres on the presentation of new robes to monks at the temple, as well as monetary donations in support of temple restoration.
The two-day festival was organised by a leading monk at the temple, which is in Nongluang village, Pakxong district.
Donors, organising committee members and village residents all gathered at the temple to make merit and share in the spiritual ceremony.
The Kathin festival is a traditional Buddhist ritual that is celebrated countrywide each year. It features colourful parades and offerings to monks following the end of Lent.
The end of Lent, which occurs in October, is the beginning of a 30-day period of merit-making.
This affords a special opportunity for prayers to Buddha and for the presentation of gifts to monks.
The offering of new robes is considered to be particularly meritorious and important. Other gifts include basic utensils, toiletries, writing materials, and food. Gift-giving is seen as an act of appreciation and gratitude to the monks.
The Kathin festival at Kheery Vongkot Thammaram temple is a way of unifying people through merit-making.
Devotees join together in chanting and worshipping Buddha images and listening to Dhamma teachings by leading monks about making merit and adhering to the five Buddhist precepts.
Those taking part also prepare food for the monks, donors and other participants.
A senior monk at the temple, Monk Somvang, said this year’s festival marked the construction of a new monastery in the village.
He thanked merit-makers from Laos and Thailand for their donations of cash and construction materials through the Phapa Samakkhee last year. This had enabled the completion of the monastery, which provided another place of worship for Buddhists.
A monk from the International temple in Thailand, Mr Geyvaly, who donated 400 boxes of tiles for the floor of the monastery, was invited to attend the festival, and took part in the rituals alongside other high-ranking monks.
When organising the festival, someone is first appointed as the leader of the event. Older people in the village are then required to lead the chanting by festival participants.
The festival was a wonderful opportunity for the monks at the temple and others in Champassak and nearby provinces to gather together to lead laypeople and donors in making merit.
Mr Geyvaly said he greatly enjoyed being in this beautiful temple and seeing that everyone continued to follow tradition by wearing Lao dress, with men wearing baggy pants, long sleeved shirts and a sash, while women too wore beautiful and modest clothes.
The event reflected the unity of everyone in the village as they helped each other to cook food and serve it to monks and festival participants, he added.
Villagers combine their efforts by collecting cash donations for the maintenance of their temple. These donations are vividly arranged on a “money tree” which is bedecked with banknotes as the “foliage”.
The money tree is ceremoniously paraded to the temple, led by a team of drummers and musicians, with the villagers carrying their own individual gifts on trays bringing up the rear. In this way, laypeople reaffirm their faith and, in a joyous fashion, bring gifts to Buddha and his servants.
Before the presentation of robes to monks, there is an early morning almsgiving when everyone gathers to make merit and presents monks with the rice and other offerings that they prepared at home.
The festival resulted in donations amounting to more than 20 million kip which was given to the monks for continuing restoration work and to support other activities that preserve Buddhism.