There is much talk of Cambodia’s Kathina ceremony, but few Cambodians have a clear understanding of its meaning. The ceremony, typically held every mid-October, is held at the end of the rainy season and is used to renew clothing for monks and to refurbish pagodas.
Venerable monk Hok Sovann, based in Montreal, Canada, said the ceremony is comprised of several elements. Kathina can in fact be celebrated on 29 days between Oct. 15 and Dec. 12, and has its roots in the pilgrimage of a group of monks given shelter from a storm by the Buddha.
“Once upon a time, 30 monks traveled on foot during the rainy season to meet Buddha, with their clothes very wet,” he said. “The Buddha saw their difficulties, so he allowed them to celebrate Kathina.”
The Kathina ceremony, when laymen give offerings to pagodas, differs from others in several distinct ways, he said. Pagodas must perform the ceremony on the proper days, and monk robes must be cut a certain style. Five monks or more pray and offer the robes to junior monks, who must then learn Buddhism at the pagoda for three months. And those who celebrate the ceremony must reduce ambition, violence and revenge from their minds.
“Men and women, old and young, can celebrate Kathina,” he said. “Some people say that pregnant women cannot offer clothing to the monks, but that is not true. In fact, they all can equally offer clothing to the monks.”
However, A-Cha Kae Ouen, a Buddhist priest at Wat Botom Vdei, said nowadays people celebrating Kathina are too competitive. The ceremony has become an occasion not to freshen the mind with kindness, but for pagodas to compete with each other over the amount of money offered.
“If one pagoda gets 3 million riels (around $250), the other pagoda must need 3.5 million riels,” he said. “They are so greedy with this kind of thing.”