Kathina, also called Kathen or Kathina pinkama (Khmer កឋិន) is a Buddhist ceremony that takes place in Theravada regions during the month following the end of the annual monastic retreat (October-November).
On this occasion, laypeople offer a piece of cloth to the monks, which they must transform into a monastic robe overnight. Other useful gifts and a meal are also offered.
The ceremony is most often held in a monastery, but can also take place in a festival hall or private room. Traditionally, the piece of cloth is first paraded through the village or neighborhood, sometimes accompanied by an offering tree in which other gifts are hung.
The tradition of kathina, the Sanskrit name for a kind of frame used to stretch cloth during sewing, is very old and attributed by the vinayas to the Buddha himself.
The monks who have observed it in the rules are entitled to a share of the fabric donations made to the monastery during the month, and benefit from a lightening of the rules (*/five less*/) for a duration which can go up to five months.
They are no longer required, for example, to notify other monks of their outings or to carry the three regulation robes on all their travels; they may accept as many gifts of clothing as they wish and gifts of food that are not presented in the rules.
The kathina may be observed only by a community of at least five monks who have spent the three months of retreat in the same residence. Those who have not met the attendance requirements specified in the vinaya are excluded.
The piece of cloth, about three meters long, is presented to the whole community who solemnly offer it to one of them, theoretically the poorest, the most learned or the oldest.
The cloth is then taken away and will be cut, sewn and dyed before dawn the next day by all the monks or a designated group if the community is large. When the garment, called a mahakathina, is completed, the recipient symbolically lays it on the frame and calls the others for approval.
The participants in the ceremony can then "unfurl the frame," that is, benefit from the relaxations of the rules. At the end of the permitted period, also called kathina, they must "fold the frame" and follow the full rules again.
The Pali Canon tells of a group of */thirty monks*/ going to Savatthi to spend the rainy season with the Buddha. Not having been able to get there in time, they stopped on their way and set off again at the end of the three months, regardless of the rain, which had not stopped; they arrived at their destination soaked.
Perhaps it was to comfort them that Gautama decided to renew their wardrobe and temporarily exempt them from certain rules. Another explanation is that the month following the retreat was devoted to the joint preparation of the wardrobe, and some rules were relaxed to facilitate this work.
Although donations from the laity were usually sufficient to meet the clothing needs of the monks, the tradition of sewing together was maintained because it helped to bind the community together.
The dress made in one night is reminiscent of the one that Mahaprajapati Gautami, the Buddha's adoptive mother and dean of nuns, wove for her son.
The kathina is a special day for the monastery during which laypeople and sometimes monks or nuns from other communities are invited. Although the rules formally forbid monks to solicit a gift of cloth from the laity, the custom is firmly established and the date of the ceremony is usually discussed in advance between the monks and the associations of the faithful.
Different temples in the region hold their kathinas on different dates. As with all Buddhist festivals, some lay people, in order to gain more merit, take the opportunity to make a vow to the abbot to observe the precepts.
If the temple is rich, the extra donations must be distributed to the poor. The kathina of the local temple is a day of celebration for all.