Ata Pirikara: More than just an offering to Maha Sangha | Daily News


Ata Pirikara: More than just an offering to Maha Sangha

Offering an Ata Pirikara (Eight-Fold Offering) is one of the Ata Maha Kusal (Eight great meritorious deeds). Ata Maha Kusal includes the offering of the Katina robe (Katina cheevara) prepared and presented to monks who have completed the three-month period of retreat called Vassana (rainy season); offering of Ata Pirikara; construction of an Awasa (shelter) for Buddhist monks; offering of Sanghika Dana (alms and other requisites to the Order of the Sangha with the Lord Buddha in mind); the printing, recording and the distribution of Dhamma; donation of land to Buddha Sasana; construction of Buddha statues, dagebas and drawings; and construction and offering of bathrooms for the use of Buddhist monks.

Following are the excerpts from an interview with Chief Incumbent of Minipura Amashanthi Forest Monastery Kammattanacharya, Thripitaka Wageeshwara, Saddharma Shiromani Most Ven. Thapowanaye Rathana Thera.

The eight items encompassed in the Ata Pirikara meet four requisites of monks – robes, alms, shelter and health (filtered water). It is for this reason that the Ata Pirikara is given much importance among Buddhist devotees.

Buddhist devotees must be very careful when purchasing Ata Pirikara from shops for offering; they should make sure that it includes the proper items which can be worn by Bhikkhus. An Ata Pirikara contains eight important items used by a Bhikkhu. Unfortunately, certain Ata Pirikara available in the market contain things that cannot be used by Bhikkhus.

Ven. Rathana Thera said the Ata Pirikara is the sign of ‘Shramana Linga’ or Mahana. Ata Pirikara is one of the most important items for an ascetic.

“Sambadho gharavaso rajapatho, abbhokaso pabbajja.

nayidam sukaram agaram ajjhavasata ekantaparipunnam ekantaparisuddham saṅkhalikhitam

brahmacariyam caritum. yannūnaham kesamassum oharetva kasayani vatthani

acchadetva agarasma anagariyam pabbajeyya’nti. (Ghotamukha Sutta)

“The household life is full of difficulties. It is a path of defilements. Going forth, hermit, is like open space. Living in a household, it is not easy to lead a holy life complete and pure without being defiled. Shaving head and beard, putting on yellow clothes, why should not I go forth as a hermit? At some suitable time, he gives up a little wealth or a large mass of wealth, either leaving behind a small circle of friends, or a large circle of friends shaving head and beard and donning yellow clothes, goes forth as a hermit.”

According to the Buddhist history, first Ata Pirikara had been offered by Ghatikara Maha Brahma to the Bodhisattva at the banks of River Anoma.

The Bodhisattva, who had cut his hair to become an ascetic, had the thought, “I feel Kasi Saluwa is not suitable for an ascetic.” Ghatikara, a friend of the Bodhisattva in the Sasana of Kasyapa Buddha, who attained Anagami and born in a Suddhawasa, learnt the idea of the Bodhisattva and offered an Ata Pirikara. (Saddharmaratnavaliya)

This shows that in the past, it was the norm for an ascetic to wear this outfit.

The Ata Pirikara is a combined offering of eight items including three types of robes, a belt, a needle and a thread, an alms bowl, a cloth filter and a shaving knife.

“ticivaramca pattova - vasi suciva bandhanam

parissavana atthete - yutta yogassa bhikkhuno”

In the above stanza, there are eight pirikaras that a Buddhist monk requires.

1. Thanipota Sivura - Single robe

2. Depota Sivura - Double robe

3. Andanaya - Inner wear


1. Three types of robe

The Buddha has approved nine robes for the use of monks. Of these, Sangati (the outer robe), Uttarasanga (the upper robe) and Antaravasaka (the lower robe, or undergarment) are the three main robes.

Robe sizes:

All robes should be smaller than the Buddha’s robe (Sugatha Cheewara). The length of the Buddha’s robe is 13 carpenter’s cubits (Wadu Riyana) and a half. Present monks do not need to wear a robe that is as long and wide as the Sugatha Cheevara. But even if it is very small, the monks won’t be able to wear the robe by preserving the Parimandala Supatichchanna precept and the same thing happens when the robe is too large. Therefore, robes should be made according to one’s own body size. Adanaya that is five feet long, one or two and a half feet wide is appropriate. The single-robe and the double-robe should be one and a half cubits long and four and a half cubits wide. The robes should be cut and sewn to paskadasatkada. If the fabric is too small to cut and sew all three robes, it is also advisable to sew one or two without cutting. An uncut robe should not be worn.

When dressing in new fabrics, the dressing should be done in a single strand and the braid should be made in two strands. The old name of the cloth is said to have been sewn into the Uttarasanga in two parts, the Sangatiya in four parts, and the robes made of the Pansukula cloth at will. When sewing robes, no sewing should be done for the sake of beauty. The knots should be sewn together.

Robe fabric:

Six types of cloths have been approved for robes:

“anujanami bhikkhave, cha civarani khomam kappasikam koseyyam kambalam sanam bhamgam.”

Khoma is a fabric woven from the fibres of a tree of that name. Kappasika is a fabric woven from cotton thread. Kossayya is a ‘Pata’ fabric. The rug is a woolen cloth. Sanaa is a cloth woven from thick fibres. Bhoga is a mixed thread woven fabric. These six types of fabric and other similar fabrics are also suitable for robes. Robes should not be made of hair, wings, tree trunks, or skins.

Robe colour:

“Na bhikkhave, sabbanilakani civarani dharetabbani, na

sabbapitakani civarani dharetabbani, na sabbalohitakani civarani dharetabbani,

na sabbamanjitthakani civarani dharetabbani, na sabbakanhani civarani

dharetabbani, na sabbamaharamgarattani civarani dharetabbani, na

sabbamahanamarattani civarani dharetabbani.”

(Mahavagga Civarakkhandhaka)

As it was preached by the Buddha, no monk can wear a robe that is completely bluish, yellowish, reddish, colour of Madatiya seed, blackish, colour of scolopendra or ripened leaves. Instead, a ‘mixed’ hue was recommended that could be extracted by boiling plant specimens such as the bark of the Nuga tree, to render kahata – a ‘discolour’ and the robes were in relation referred to as the kahatawasthraya – discoloured garb.

2. Bowl

As it was preached by the Buddha, “Pindiyalopabhojanam nissaya pabbajja”, the basic source of food for Bhikkhus was that received during the morning alms round (Pindapatha). This daily dependence on alms food reminds both Bhikkhus and lay devotees of their interdependence and prevents the Bhikkhus from becoming too isolated from the lay community. He ‘meets’ them every day and eats the food that they share with him.

“Na bhikkhave apattako upasampadetabbo, yo upasampadeyya apatti dukkatassa.” There is also a precept stating that a person who does not have a bowl should not be ordained.

“Na bhikkhave sovannamayo patto dharetabbo, na rūpiyamayo patto dharetabbo. na manimayo patto dharetabbo. na veluriyamayo patto dharetabbo. na elikamayo patto dharetabbo. na kamsamayo patto dharetabbo, na kavamayo patto dharetabbo, na tipumayo patto dharetabbo. na sisamayo patto dharetabbo, na tambalohamayo patto dharetabbo. yo dhareyya apatti dukkatassa. anujanami bhikkhave dve patte ayopattam mattikapattanti.”

Meaning: No Bhikkhu can hold a bowl made out of gold, silver, crystal, bronze, glass, white lead, black lead or copper and the alms bowl can only be made of clay or iron.

“Tayo pattassa vanna ukkattho patto majjhimo patto omako patto. ukkattho nama patto addhalhakodanam ganhati catubhagam khadanam tadupiyanca vyanjanam. majjhimo nama patto nalikodanam ganhati catubhagam khadanam tadupiyanca vyanjanam. omako nama patto patthodanam ganhati catubhagam khadanam tadupiyanca vyanjanam.”

The Buddha has recommended three sizes of bowls - small, medium and large.

A Sinhalese artist’s depiction of the Prince Siddhartha cutting his hair off, while Gatikara Maha Brahma is waiting in the background to offer him a robe and a bowl.

3. Razor blade

The Pali word ‘Danthakattha’ means a wooden stick that is used to brush teeth and the other word ‘Chedanawasi’ means knife. As it has been mentioned in Attaka Wagga of Anguththara Nikaya in Thripitaka, it is clear that a special knife was included in Ata Pirikara in order to make a wooden stick to brush teeth since there were no brushes for that purpose. But, today we can see a razor blade as a part of Ata Pirikara. So, we can imagine that the special knife that was used to make wooden sticks to brush teeth might have used for shaving purpose as well. The razor blade should be made out of stainless steel. But today only a blade can usually be found in Ata Pirikara which cannot be used for any purpose.

4. Needle

Pali word ‘Suchee’ means the needle. Today we can find both a needle as well as a ball of thread in Ata Pirikara. In the early days, various types of fibre were used for this purpose.

5. Robe belt

The belt is also called ‘Kaya Bandanaya’. Kaya Bandanaya is a piece of cloth that is tied around the waist so that the robe does not loosen. “Na bhikkhave uccavacani kayabandhanani dharetabbani, kalabukam deddubhakam murajam maddavinam. yo dhareyya apatti dukkatassa,” which means that the Bhikkhus should not use fancy belts.

6. Filter

‘Parissavana’ is a piece of cloth that is used to filter water. Since there are many invisible creatures in the water, the Buddha advised monks to drink only filtered water.


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