Chula Kathin is a yearly ceremony held at Plekwiwek Dhamma Center featuring the handmade production of monk robes directly from raw cotton. Local women from Karen and Lisu tribes turn cotton bunches into dyed and sewn robes in under 24 hours! Six ATMA SEVA staff members and volunteers were fortunate to go to Wiang Haeng district to participate in the event, held each fall.
The roots of the ceremony go back centuries. Historically, monks were itinerant, traveling nine months out of the year. During their travels, they would collect scraps of cloth for their robes from charnel grounds (locations where people are layed after death). During the three months of the rainy season, however, they stayed at a temple and did not travel. Thus, they were unable to collect cloth during this period. To supply them with fresh robes and gain merit, local villagers would make them new robes at the end of each rainy season. At present, most robes are mass produced and purchased, making the ceremony where a handful of robes are still handmade at Plekweiwek Dhamma Center very special.
Step one: Pick the cotton
Most of the raw cotton came from Myanmar, however several bushes grow at Plekweiwek. Attendees honored these bushes through a flower and incense offering that celebrated their bounty and then picked the cotton.
Step two: Readying the cotton for spinning
Impurities and seeds were removed from the cotton bunches by hand.
Step three: Spinning the cotton into yarn
Cotton was fluffed and fed slowly onto a spinning wheel (it sticks together like the pull-apart Halloween spider web decorations).
Step four: Weaving the yarn
Cotton yarn was threaded onto a simple loom and then woven together, creating long pieces of cloth.
Step five: Dyeing the cloth
The cloth was dyed overnight for twelve hours using the center bark from a local tree that was steeped in a vat of hot water.
Step six: Preparing the robes
The fabric was dried and sewn together into saffron robes.
Step seven: Presenting the robes
Robes were presented in a special ceremony. The festival attracted visitors who flew in from as far away as Bangkok.
Below are pictures from the ceremony!
Corinne Kolm, on-site intern