Vap Full Moon Poya Day is of special significance to Buddhists because of the Katina pinkama as well as several other events which took place on this day and during the month of Vap. Gautama Buddha’s completion of His Vas period in Thusitha heaven, the dispatch of an envoy by King Devanampiyatissa to emperor Asoka in India requesting him to send a sapling of Sri Maha Bodhi to Sri Lanka, attainment of arahantship by Aritta Samanera as Singala Maha Thera and the recitation of Vinaya Pitaka under the supervision of Arahant Mahinda Maha Thera are the significant events taken place on Vap Full Moon Poya Day.
Completion of the rainy season sojourns by Buddhist monks
Buddhist monks complete the Vassana kala or the rainy season sojourn on Vap Full Moon Poya Day. This three month period is extremely important for the “Savanak Piris” or four groups in the Buddhist community, viz, Bhikkhus- Monks, Bhikkhunis- Nuns, Upasakas- Lay male devotees, and Upasikas- lay female devotees and because this is the period of the year when they can accumulate merit in various ways. Buddhists perform a series of special religious activities, the most important one being the Katina Cheevara Pooja or offering of robes to monks who have completed the rainy season sojourns.
Katina Cheevaraya- Robe for the rainy season
Katina cheevaraya is a web of cloth made in a day and presented to a Buddhist priest. An important incident led to the introduction of Katina Pooja or offering of robes to monks who had completed Vas or rainy season sojourn. When Gautama Buddha was sojourning in Jethavanaramaya in Srawasthy thirty monks came to Him from Paveyya State. Since it was the rainy season they remained with the householders in Savath Nuwara but on their way they got caught to heavy rains as the rainy season was not over. They came to Jethavanaramaya in wet robes. On inquiry they told the Buddha that they got caught to rain. Buddha gave them permission for “Katinaskaranaya” or entitled them to have another robe.
Katina Cheevara Pooja –Offering of new robes
Katina Cheevara Pooja or offering of new robes to Buddhist priests is a long standing religious custom prevailing in all the countries where Theravada Buddhism prevails. Katina is offered to Buddha on the Vap Full Moon Poya Day and in Sri Lanka Katina Pinkama ceremonies are performed in Buddhist temples during the period from Vap Full Moon Poya Day to Ill Full Moon Poya Day. In the words of Buddha this is the Noblest religious activity for Buddhists in which limitless merit is accumulated.
Entitlement for Katina Cheevara
Monks who have completed a period of rainy season sojourn are entitled to receive Katina Cheevara after the successful completion of three month period of rainy season sojourn. In the event of a number of monks observing Vas or sojourning for the rainy season at the same place only one monk is entitled to receive Katina at that place. However, a single devotee can offer any number of robes but at different places.
Virtues of Katina Pooja- Katinanisansa
In Buddha’s words all the items offered at Katina Pinkama ceremony are equally efficacious bridges offerings in the road to Nirvana.
A number of prerequisites should be fulfilled to achieve the best results of Katina Pooja. First of all every monk to whom Katina cheewaraya is offered should have completed the rainy season sojourn in the proper way. The Cheewara should be a thick robe for the wet season cut and sewn on the spot in a day and a night.
The first “Vas” period of Gautama Buddha
Gautama Buddha set an example to His followers by sojourning during the first wassana kala or the rainy season after the Enlightenment. The first “Vas” period Buddha’s Rainy Season sojourning of Gautama Buddha was at Bavanesa Isipathanaramaya –the grove in Benaris where He first preached His disciples.
Gautama Buddha’s Rainy Season sojourning in Thusitha Heaven
Gautama Buddha’s seventh “Vas” season is also of special significance. He decided to be of service to His mother God who was in Thusitha –Thawthisa. Queen Mahamaya who died seven days after giving birth to prince Siddhartha was born in the divine world called Thawthisa as a mighty god. During His sojourn in Tavatinsa the Enlightened One gave religious instructions to the celestial beings including the mother god. Buddha delivered Abhidharma or Transcendent doctrine. On hearing Abhidharma the mother god attained Sowan, the first of the paths or stages leading to Nirvana.
A number of prerequisites should be fulfilled to achieve the best results of Katina Pooja. First of all every monk to whom Katina cheewaraya is offered should have completed the rainy season sojourn in the proper way. The Cheewara should be a thick robe for the wet season cut and sewn on the spot in a day and a night
Descent to the world of men from Thusitha Heaven down a ladder of “Sath Ruwan”
On the Vap Full Moon Poya Day the Enlightened One descended to the world of men after the completion of the period of “Vas” in Thusitha Heaven. Attended by celestial beings Buddha descended to the world of men down a ladder of “Sath Ruwan” - seven precious things i.e. Gold, silver, pearls, gems, cats eye gems, diamonds and coral, Shad warna, i.e. the aggregate of six colours- blue, yellow, crimson, white, red and the colour formed by combined radiance emanated from His body and formed into a halo around Him. Thousands of Devas and Brahmas stood in the air on either side of the ladder to pay respects to the Enlightened One.
Sahampaty Maha Brahma held the “Chatra”- the parasol and god Suyama (Chief god of the divine world “Yama”) fanned the Buddha with a “Vijina pata or Vatapatha. “Panchasika” played the Veena. Human beings who could not make offerings to the Exalted One in person during a period of three months were anxious to have a glance of Him. Buddha descended followed by Sakra, Maha Brahma and Suyama. Human beings overwhelmed with happiness – the Buddhalambana Preethiya - made it a religious festive season.
Envoy to request for a sapling of Sri Maha Bodhi
Vap Full Moon Poya Day is significant also in connection with Sri Maha Bodhi. It was on a Vap Full Moon Poya Day that King Devanampiyatissa sent his nephew, Aritta, who was also his minister, to the emperor Dharmasoka as an envoy requesting him to send a sapling of Sri Maha Bodhi. The king dispatched the envoy under the admonition of Arahant Mahinda Maha Thera.
Emperor Dharmasoka who had already sent missionaries to various countries including Sri Lanka did not hesitate to send a sapling of Sri Maha Bodhi to Sri Lanka. Under the admonition of Arahant Moggaliputta Tissa Thera, emperor Dharmasoka sent a sapling of Sri Maha Bodhi to Sri Lanka in a golden bowl which was handed over to Arahant Sanghamitta Theri to be taken to Sri Lanka.
Craftsmen of eighteen ranks
Craftsmen of eighteen ranks accompanied Arahant Sanghamitta Theri. Together with a number of other Theris she embarked from Tamaralitti fort and disembarked in Sri Lanka in a few days’ time. Sri Maha Bodhi was planted in Maha Meuna Uyana on the following Undu Vap Full Moon Poya Day.
Establishment of Meheni Sasna – the Order of Nuns
Arahant Sanghamitta Theri established Meheni Sasna – the Order of Nuns –in Sri Lanka After the arrival of Arahant Sanghamitta Theri Princess Anula and her followers, five hundred in number, who attained Sowan, the first stage to Nibbana, could join the order. Arahant Sanghamitta Maha Theri took the lead to establish the first ever archaeological museum in the country. A building called “Upasika Viharaya” was constructed to accommodate Arahant Sanghamitta Theri, the order of Bikkhunis who accompanied her and the five hundred royal family princesses led by queen Anula who were ordained in Sri Lanka.
First Sri Lankan to attain Arahantship –the goal of Buddhism
Prince Maha Aritta who was ordained by Arahant Mahinda Maha Thera was the first Sri Lankan to attain Arahantship - the goal of Buddhism. He held the convocation of Vinaya Pitakaya. The commencement of the convocation was on a Vap Full Moon Poya Day.
Royal patronage in Katina Cheewara Pooja ceremonies
According to legend Mahawansa kings in Sri Lanka have patronised Katina Cheewara Pooja ceremonies and very often kings themselves had offered Katina Cheewara to Maha Sangha on Vap Full Moon Poya Days and in addition they had included various items required for respective temples.
King Parakramabahu the Great who ruled the country from Polonnaruwa is one such monarch who played a pioneering role in the Katina Cheewara Pooja. He had contemplated on offering eighty Katinas in eighty different places. Collecting cotton wool, knitting and sewing had been done on the same day. The King had got “Kappiyabhanda” –proper articles to be offered to Buddhist priests and had offered them to the Maha Sangha. He had offered Katina Cheewara annually during the period of his reign.
Katina Cheewara Pooja during the Kotte Period
There is also a detail account of Katina Cheewara Pooja performed by king Parakramabahu the sixth in 1410 A.D. During the Kotte period Katina Cheewara offering ceremonies had been conducted in various temples such as Kotte, Kelaniya, Bellanwila and those in outstations such as Kandy, Anuradhapura and in the South. He had offered Katina Cheewara and other accoutrements or articles required by Buddhist priests including “Atapirikara” viz. Bowl, undergarment, Single robe, double robe, girdle, knife or razor strainer annually to three thousand four hundred and thirty two Buddhist priests in three Sinhale viz. Ruhunu, Maya and Pihiti.
Rulers of the Hill Capital who provided patronage in Katina Cheewara Pooja
There is historical evidence to the effect that King Keerthi Sri Rajasinghe of Senkadagala kingdom who provided royal patronage in establishing Upasampada (Higher Ordination) in this country had offered Katina Cheewara annually to the Maha Sangha on Vap Full Moon Poya Day. King Vimaladharmasuriya and the last King of the Kandyan kingdom Sri Wickrema Rajasinghe are notable kings who provided royal patronage in Katina
Month of Vap- the chief sowing season
The month of Vap is also important for farmers. It is the chief sowing season. Agricultural activities such as breaking fallow ground, ploughing and sowing take place during this month. Vap Magula or Vap festival had been patronised by royal families. King Suddhodhana had taken Prince Siddhartha Bodhisatva out on that day to see the ploughing festival. Nineteen Amunas had been ploughed with sixty ploughs. Bulls of best breed, well-made ploughs and yokes, driving sticks and goads were carried in carriages drawn by horses. According to Mahawansa, Sinhala Kings had conducted Vap Magula – the ploughing festival with the highest esteem and in a grand scale. At present Vap Magula is a national festival patronised by the Head of State and ministers. Vap Magula is conducted not only at the national level but also provincially. In certain Vap Festivals elephants are used presumably for want of strong bulls and buffaloes in sufficient number or with the intention of providing prestige to the festival.