Calendar Pages -- The Acquisition and Wearing of Theravada Buddhist Monks' Robes

August 21st, 2007

The Acquisition and Wearing of Theravada Buddhist Monks' Robes

Dr. H. Leedom Lefferts
Siam Society, 4th floor
131 Soi Asoke (Sukhumvit Soi 21)
Time: 10:30 am – 12:30 pm

The Thai Textile Society in collaboration with the Siam Society is pleased to present a discussion lead by Dr. Leffterts based on his article, "The Acquisition and Wearing of Theravada Buddhist Monks' Robes," in the James H.W. Thompson Foundation Symposium book, The Secrets of Southeast Asian Textiles: Myth, Status, and the Supernatural. He suggests that members read the article prior to attending the discussion.

From the early moments following its birth, a Tai child is clothed. While today most cloth used in Thai culture is factory produced, the cloth used to wrap the child and, indeed, its wrapping, is still seen as the responsibility of the mother and women. This early wrapping of the child with cloth is paralleled by the gift of cloth from an ordinand's mother, or another woman, when the growing boy/man engages in the renunciation of this life, which is crucial to the meaning of becoming a member of the Theravada Buddhist Sangha. As an ordinand moves from the surroundings of a household into the life of the renunciant, he remains clothed. Even though he has "died", a son remains clothed, and those cloths originally come from women. This parallel and contrast between the life and clothes of a young man in a household and his movement out of that household into the life of a renunciate is highlighted during the ceremony of the Bun Buat Naak. At that time the ordinand, and sometimes even his totem, the serpent/naak, are dressed in the most elaborate textiles woven by his female relatives before donning the "plain" cloths of Theravada Buddhism. These gifts of cloth in life and death "play" with enduring symbols of Southeast and South Asian power and strength. The paper examines some of the meanings and possible changes in meanings that have recently occurred during the "modern era" in the exchange and wearing of these textiles.

Dr. H. Leedom Lefferts is Professor of Anthropology Emeritus from Drew University, Madison, New Jersey, and Research Associate in the Department of Anthropology, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC. He has conducted ethnographic research, including aspects of social organization and material culture such as textiles, pottery, and agriculture, in Northeast Thailand and elsewhere in Southeast Asia since 1970.

Suggested Donations: Thai Textile Society and Siam Society Members 100 baht

Non-Members 200 baht

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Location: 4th Floor Lecture Room, Siam Society
131 Soi Asoke (21), Sukhumvit Rd Bangkok
Asoke BTS Station and Sukhumvit MRT Station