"Tak Bat"

As the sun rises in Luang Prabang around 200 Buddhist monks depart from their various temples to gather their daily meal. The tradition of alms gathering dates back to the 14th century, yet still today, locals wake early to prepare the food for the monks and wait quietly by the roadside to give their gifts. Although the main purpose is for locals to give alms to the monks, you will also notice small children kneeling with baskets in the hope that the monks will share some of their alms with them so that they can take food back to their family. This daily ceremony is both peaceful and spiritual and gives you a wonderful opportunity to experience an ancient Lao tradition.

Dawn©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved

Hundreds of monks leave 35 temples of Luang Prabang in the early hours of the morning in total silence and barefoot to walk the streets. It is a solemn ritual and completely authentic, where both monks and the faithful continue a centuries-old tradition.The offerings of alms-giving ceremony is generally food (glutinous rice mostly), they also offer biscuits, and fruit.The practice of offering food to monks is most visible in Theravada Buddhist countries like Laos and Thailand, where the practice sustains large monastic communities.

Total silence©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved Therevada Buddhists©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved

It's one of the most vivid images of Laos - from 5:30 in the morning onward, silent lines of saffron-clad monks walk down the streets of Luang Prabang to collect alms. As monks file past the line of alms-givers - who are usually sitting or kneeling on the street - the monk`s bowls are reverently filled with handfuls of sticky rice or bananas.The best rice for the tak bat ritual is prepared by the alms-givers themselves. The locals wake up early to prepare a batch of sticky rice, which they then scoop generously into each monk's bowl as the line files past.

Tak Bat ritual©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved Sticky rice©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved

The locals sit or kneel. I was told not to position myself higher than the monks' heads.The ritual is done in silence; the alms-givers do not speak, nor do the monks.The monks walk in meditation, and the alms-givers reciprocate with respect by not disturbing the monk's meditative peace.

Young Novice©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved

By feeding the monks and helping, the lay-people make merit, "tak bat" supports both the monks (who need the food) and the almsgivers (who need spiritual redemption).

Large bowl©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved Merit©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved

The upsurge of tourism in Luang Prabang has endangered the tak bat ceremony, as many tourists approach the ritual not as a religious ceremony to be respected, but as a cultural show to enjoy. I unfortunately watched tourists often jostle the monks, breaking their meditation; they took flash pictures of the line; and they disrupted the ritual with their inappropriate noise, actions and dress.

Sit or kneel©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved Locals©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved
Religious ceremony©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved Stopping the tradition©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved

Some Lao officials are considering stopping the tradition because of the deep offence caused by tourists' behavior. This being a religious and cultural tradition it would be very hard to do. I found it very simple to stay in the shadows and not disturb anyone.The use of a tripod and high iso will have to be considered. The light is poor and people resort to using flash and often block the front of the procession.

Flash pictures©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved

 


Comments

6.Vanishing Cultures Photography
Thanks for taking the time to read and make a comment, I really appreciate it.
5.Md. Shawkat Hossain(non-registered)
Such an interesting part that I don't know before. Wonderful description with wonderful photos.
4.Vanishing Cultures Photography
Thanks so much, I really appreciate it.
1.Luxury Flats Lady(non-registered)
Such a fascinating insight into this custom! I hope they don't stop it just because of tourism, that seems beside the point.
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