Kathin Chibor Daan: Rajban Vihara

Divide and rule policy of conquerors played no less role. However, all said and done, though we do not usually encounter major religious strife, we are not much aware of each other’s religion as well

by Pradip Kumar Dutta

We, in Bangladesh, often boost of being an anti-communal Nation. It is not untrue. Most of our people are of the same stock if we go back long in history and have converted into different religions due to different political, social, economic, racial and professional reasons. So, a workable racial harmony has mostly existed in the land through ages. Of course, we cannot deny sporadic riots in the sub-continent from time to time due to political greed of leaders and utilising religious sentiments of general mostly uneducated people to gain political head. 

Divide and rule policy of conquerors played no less role. However, all said and done, though we do not usually encounter major religious strife, we are not much aware of each other’s religion as well. Reasons are multifarious and many a reader may not agree to my above statement altogether. I admit that there are many people in our society who are very very secular and are very tolerant to other faiths. Unfortunately, there are some others to the contrary and when these fanatics go into action, albeit limited, the greater section of the people who are secular prefer to indulge in inaction for some strange reasons. This phenomenon we have witnessed during recent inhuman communal disturbances during and after the Durga puja, the biggest Hindu festival of the region.

Fortunately, our present Government and the Head of State is very serious on this issue and is bent to deal with fanatic miscreants with all the Government's might. She has promised exemplary punishment for wrong doers to set example before others so that similar disturbances in the name of religion to take other political/economical/social benefits does not occur in future. We know that the Honourable Prime Minister is true to her words and from now on better days are ahead.

Now, after a quite long introduction, let us settle to the point that we would like to deal in today.

Rajban Vihara is the most revered Buddhist Temple in Rangamati in Bangladesh and is respected by Chakmas, all other Buddhists and people of other faith as well. It was the seat of Banabhantey, the high priest of the Vihara and the Chakma Royal Family. We will come back to him in details later.

Now, what is Kathin Chibor Daan? In simple words, it is to gift the monks with the special type of attire they wear.

The simple attire that the monks are supposed to wear consists of four parts - spun, woven dyed and stitched from raw cotton within an unimaginable span of 24 hours. This practice has its origin from the days of Lord Buddha. During the three months of rainy season, the followers of Lord Buddha used to seclude them in a particular temple or place and stayed put there learning, teaching and researching on religion and life. This was and still is named Varshabash. At the end of one such Varshabash, the pious lady Bishakha found the ascetics and monks in torn, forlorn and unhealthy attire. She sought and received the permission of the Lord to provide all of them with simple and clean attire of particular religious colours (red, yellow, pastel, etc.) within shortest possible time. She assembled devoted ladies to the cause of Dhamma and performed the miraculous job within the specified time. This attire is known as Chibar and the practice spread across the countries of Theravada Buddhism in India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Kampuchea, Laos, etc. 

Strict time frame however was lost with time, but Gift of Chibar was always considered amongst the Buddhists as the best Gift possible on God's earth. To glorify this activity of Chibar Daan big and small festivals are arranged all over Buddhist dominated area for one long month. These functions include apart from Gift of Chibar (the main feat) also Dharmadeshana (religious directives towards leading simple and truthful life) by high priests and monks, religious seminars signifying Lord Buddha's teachings, Interfaith sessions, feeding the religious gurus, bhanteys, monks ascetics and religious leaders, chanting from religious scriptures like Tripitaka, religious concerts, releasing air baloons with fire lamp, illuminating religious campuses and cleaning/decorating the premises. 

Kathin Chibar Daan lasts for one month from Prabarana Poornima (on conclusion of Varshbash usually in October) till Kartiki poornima usually in November. The temples distribute the dates amongst themselves mutually. There are two interpretations of the word Kathin. One would easily agree that to prepare attires for the monks from the scratch with raw cotton within only 24 hours is Kathin or very very difficult to say the least. There is another origin of the word from South-east Asia where the use a wooden frame for weaving the Chibar. It’s made of a hard wood called Kathien.

Kathin Chibar Daan has become the most venerable religious festival participated by Buddhists of all the places including Bangladesh and today the 12th November, 2021, we are observing it in Rangamati Rajban Vihar the most celebrated temple in the Chittagong hills and is considered as the Royal Temple of Chakma kingship. In this particular Vihara, the old tradition of making the Chibar within the timeframe of 24 hours was reintroduced according to old tradition by His Grace the Banabhantey Sadhanananda Mahasthabir in the early part of 70s of the previous century when upon repeated requests, he took up the leadership of constructing this temple as the center of Buddhist learning in the region.

Now that we have covered two of the main topics of our discussion today: the Kathin Chibor Daan and Rajban Bihar (a few pictures will be attached). Let’s now throw some light on the great Religious leader, the supreme propagator of the Great Lord Buddha's thought of Ahimsa and also live and let live. He is none other than the Banabhantey as he is popularly known. 

The great man was born as Rathindra Lal Chakma in a middle class family of a small place named Maghban,not too far from Rangamati. He was the eldest of 6 siblings and at his 23rd year of age, his father expired leaving the responsibility of running the family on his shoulders. Till then, he had only received middle English school education. To face the challenge of life, he took up business to run his family, but material life never attracted him. He often got engrossed in thoughts of valueless material life, Dhamma, ultimate fate of mankind as shown by Lord Buddha and Ahimsa. That did the business no good. His brothers took over running the business and at the age of 29 years, Rathindra was introduced to HG Dipankar Srigyan Mahasthabir, the chief of Chittagong Nandankanan Bouddha Dhatu Vihara.

After being blessed by the Head of the Institution Sri Dipankar Srigyan he became a Sraman, stayed in the temple for some time and then set out in search of enlightenment and Dhamma with the Giru's blessings. He stayed in Betagi and Chitmorom temples for certain period and learned and practised religion with the inmates and teachers there. All those places were dangerously hilly, infested with wildlife of different sorts, shortage of food and means of living. But that never deterred the soul seekers. Our Sraman was looking for still difficult life which he found in a place called Dhanpata, deep in the forest. Wildlife was more common there than humans. He started his life meditating, studying and occasionally preaching to a chance visitor. He spent 12 long years in this remote forest when he is said to have performed various miraculous acts but let’s not get involved in that. 

When Kaptai dam was put for Hydel power by the then Pakistan government, about 500 square km of the Hill tracts area was inundated and that has become beautiful Kaptai-Rangamati lake of today. Many sweat and tear is hidden behind this beauty. Anyway, the Bhikkhu lost his meditation cottage to the lake and was forced to shift. Some of his disciples of Dighinala brought him there. After spending some time there he shifted to Langadu area and finally started staying in Tintilla cottage, a meagre place to stay for him and a few of his disciples. Tintilla is near Langadu. The elders invited him to Langadu area (Fang: official invitation) for starting Kathin Chibar Daan. 

During this period 1960-1970 his fame spread far and near and many important people of the area and from outside used to come to him for advice on Dhamma and worldly affairs. By 1970 his disciples were receiving Upasampada. Some of them became monks of highest order, experts on Pali and Tripitaka. Some went to Akyab and other places of higher Burmese learning to learn more. When Banabhantey attained the status of a Buddhist preacher, his name was given as Sadhanananda ultimately becoming a Mahashabir in 1981. But since he spent most of his productive and learning time in the forests and his popular name became Banabhantey.

By the beginning of the 70s of previous century, Banabhantey was very very well known. His reintroduction of the century old Kathin Chibar preparation within a 24-hour span made him very renowned and respected. It also opened up a slot for local hill tribes to prepare their own clothings and earning money by promoting local traditional textiles. Rangamati now is full of such local products that is very popular among Bangladeshi and foreign tourists alike. 

In 1974 for the first time the Chakma Raj family sent a Fang to him through a high powered delegation led by Kumar Kokonadaksha Roy who was accompanied by several respected citizens. At first, the Reverend did not agree to leave behind his modest forest life style and mode of devotion. The delegation was very very disheartened. But Banabhantey's main disciple in those days was Nandapal. He was somehow convinced by the good intention of the Royal and Civil society and convinced the Reverend Banavantey to accept the proposal of establishing a Headquarters for learning, teaching and preaching Lord Buddha's ideals. 

First, Nandapal was sent for the construction of the first modest ashram and had his first Barshabash there. Finally, the Banabhanyey shifted to Rajbanbihar from Tintilla and by 1980 Rajbanvihar was finally fully functional. Rajmata Arati Devi first donated 27 acres of land near the Royal palace for the grand Temple. Subsequently Rajmata Benita Roy and Raja Devashish also played their parts along with the Bangladesh Government and others of the civil society belonging to all religions. Day by day the Vihara is gaining elegance by edition of new facilities with the initiative of the Executive Committee, civil and government agencies, foreign donation and help of expatriate Bangladeshi Buddhists. Today this huge organisation can boast of 57 branches in Bangladesh and 20 in India including at Bodhgaya, Arunachal, Mizoram and Agartala.

Our great Sadhanananda Mahasthabir left his mortal form to eternity in 2012. With the help of Thai technology and active support from Thai masters, his body is mummified and still lies in the same look and shape as original as if he is sleeping. It is kept for audience of public to show respect to his soul, deeds and ideals. Strict timing and rules are to be followed.

Today is the day that the highest Daan (Gift) to a Buddhist Monk namely Kathin Chibar Daan is being performed in Rajbanvihara at Rangamati in presence of high Bangladeshi Civil and Government leaders and foreign dignitaries.

We wish all success to the event. Let us all remember Lord Buddha's teachings:

Live and let live

Ahimsha (no hatred to anyone).

Killing any living being is a sin.

Love each other.

Let all living creatures on earth be Happy.

Long live Lord Buddha's teachings.

-The End-

The writer is a columnist based in Dhaka, Bangladesh

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