Matthew was delighted to celebrate Inter-faith Week (11th-18th November) by visiting the Sri Saddhatissa International Buddhist Centre in Kingsbury to witness the Kathina Civara Puja – or robe offering ceremony. The Kathina festival is a major observance of Theravada Buddhism. It is a time for laypeople to offer cloth for robes and other necessities to the monastic sangha. Kathina takes place every year in the four weeks following the end of Vassa, the rains retreat. Taking the opportunity to stitch the robe, Matthew then awarded the material as a gift to one of the monks.
The robes worn by Theravada monks and nuns of southeast Asia today are thought to be unchanged from the original robes of twenty-five centuries ago. The robe has three parts:
- The uttarasanga is the most prominent robe. It is sometimes also called the kashaya robe. It is a large rectangle, about 6 by 9 feet. It can be wrapped to cover both shoulders, but most often it is wrapped to cover the left shoulder but leave the right shoulder and arm bare.
- The antaravasaka is worn under the uttarasanga. It is wrapped around the waist like a sarong, covering the body from waist to knees.
- The sanghati is an extra robe that can be wrapped around the upper body for warmth. When not in use, it is sometimes folded and draped over a shoulder.
Accompanied on the visit by the Sri Lankan Deputy High Commissioner to the UK, Mr Sugeeshwara Gunaratna, Matthew said: “The Kathina was a fascinating event that allowed me to understand how people who follow the Buddhist religion take great pride in offering cloth and other goods to their teachers. I was pleased to see many of my constituents there and share this occasion with them.”