This time last year, I was wandering the streets of Bangkok searching for the elusive Monk’s Bowl Village. I was really intrigued about finding the little family workshops that make bowls for alms collecting using traditional methods. It had a reputation of being tricky to find and it was.
In Theravada Buddhism, monks and nuns go on a daily alms round (pindacara) often at dawn. Faithfull members of the community meet them in the streets with offerings of food. This act adds merit for the giver as well as providing food for the monk.
We began our morning at the Golden Mount, or Wat Saket. A temple had first been built there in the 19th century but the current structure was built in the early 20th century. It has an impressive view of Bangkok. Next it was time to find Monk’s Bowl Village or Ban Baat.
We walked for many blocks regularly wondering if we had lost our way. As we got closer there were a few small, unobtrusive signs. Then as we asked, someone appeared who said they knew where it was and to follow. We were lead back through twists and turns and eventually arrived at a section where a small shop display of monk’s bowls had been set-up. We were then taken to see the different steps in the creation of a monk’s bowl.
There are only 3 families still creating these bowls by traditional methods. Most monk’s bowls are now made in factories much more quickly and for far less money. This village was established by King Rama I over two centuries ago. Making the effort to search it out and make a purchase will help to keep this craft alive.
A monk’s bowl (or baat) is made by hammering 8 pieces of steel together. Each piece represents a part of the Eight Fold Path which is one of the principle teachings in Buddhism. You can also find this concept represented in the eight spokes on the Dharma Wheel. The monk’s bowl’s strips of steel begin by being laid out across each other like spokes.
A craftsman then solders the seams together using copper. Each step was taking place outside each artisan’s home at the edge of the lane. It was interesting to watch them work as life continued around them with people walking through, someone cooking and children playing. All the while a centuries old practice was fighting for survival.
Once the seams are strong, the bowl is beaten and polished. It may be given a few coats of black lacquer to give it extra shine.
After watching the process, we headed back to the store to make selections. I showed an unusual sense of restraint and purchased one of the smaller bowls. I especially like its patina and the copper decorations.
This November, I will be visiting Luang Prabang, Laos which is said to have one of the largest processions of alms collection in the world. I look forward to experiencing this first hand and hope to share a few pictures of this beautiful ritual with you later next month.
Ban Baat, Monk’s Bowl Village: Th Boriphat Soi Ban Baat, Bangkok, Thailand
Shop from Home:
Eastern Serenity I think they have a beautiful collection of artisan made monk’s bowls.