The Vassana Retreat signifying the Vas Aradana and the Katina Pinkamas, all commenced from the time of the Buddha. In India, the birthplace of the Buddha, there were three seasons in the year, namely the Hemantha, Gimhana and the Vassana seasons respectively.
The Vassana season, generally known as the rainy season, commenced in the month of July also called the month of Esala, and concluded in the month of October also known as the month of Vap. During the rainy season, the disciples of the Buddha came across difficult situations especially whilst going on their Pindapatha rounds.
The Buddha, who was apprised of this situation by his disciples, very carefully considered the request by his disciples and granted permission that they reside within the temples and monasteries during this three month period. The Buddha also expected that the lay supporters would very kindly look after the welfare of his disciples during this period
In Sri Lanka according to Buddhist history it was only after the arrival of the Most Venerable Arahat Mahinda Thera that Katina pinkamas did commence in the Sacred City of Anuradhapura on the Esla poya day. It is also mentioned that Kings and Heads of States generally not only sponsored but also facilitated with the assistance of the devotees, to conduct these Vas pinkamas. It is also learnt that King Parakrama Bahu, King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe and King Rajadi Rajasinghe younger brother of the King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe conducted these Vas Pinkamas during their times of reign in Sri Lanka.
The three month Vassana period also afforded the clergy as well as the laity to maximise this opportune period in the dispensation, practising and propagation of the sublime teachings of the Buddha.
It was the practice in the past and also present for Buddhist temples and monasteries to arrange daily Dhamma sermons sil campaigns with a full day’s religious program and engage in numerous religious activities, such as Dhamma discussions, chanting of Pirith, conduct Adhidhamma classes for both the benefit of the clergy and of the laity, especially during this period. The Katina Pinkama takes place only once in the year, in any one temple or monastay and that Buddhist devotees anxiously look forward to either individually or jointly make the offering of the Katina robe to the Maha Sangha. The demand is immense and that many temples carry a list of advance reservations made by devotees to offer this Katina robe, which is of course considered an annual event regarded with very high esteem and that it accrues immense merit.
The preparation of the Katina robe is done on the same day the offering is to be made. Anxious ardent devotees start preparing the robe which has to go through a number of stages from the very early hours of the morning. It is also observed that more common today is the offering of the readymade Katina robe.
The Katina Chivaraya so prepared is brought in a grand procession carried by the person who undertakes the offering and that this procession is lead by drummers, schoolchildren carrying Buddhist flags and candlelight colourful lanterns, seasath and tours the streets from the early hours of the morning on the day of the offering to enable most devotees to catch a glimpse of this rare and spectacular event and thereby accrue merit, and is also a wakeup call to devotees to attend this ceremony.
The procession enters the temple by about 6 a.m. in the morning and the offering is made by the dayaka or dayika to the Maha Sangha, comprising the Vassana Monks who observed Vas and are seated in the order of seniority and in the presence of a very large number of devotees, also generally attended by the Head of State, trustees and management committee members of the Temple.
The head monk then delivers a short discourse on the significance of the Vassana Retreat and the connected Vas and Katina pinkamas the immense merits accrued by such a rare offering. At the close of this brief ceremony the Vassana monks retire to meet at the Simamalakaya, where it is decided as to which monk would be entitled to receive the Katina robe on that particular year.
The monk who is offered the Katina robe generally wears it and delivers a sermon on Katinanisansa.
Mention has also to be made of the Kapruka, which is open for all types of offerings of essential items and requisites like medicines, items of stationary and the like offered for use by the temple monks throughout the year.
It is observed that it is only the Upasampada monks, monks who have received the higher ordination, could avail themselves to observe the Vassana period and also be entitled to receive the Katina robe.
A monk who has so observed the three month Vassana period could not be away for more than seven days from the temple of observance and that if he does leave for some valid reason or other, he should return to the temple by the seventh day.
A monk who misses or is late to observe the Vassana period on the day of the Vas Aradana Ceremony would be permitted to observe the late-vas termed Pasu-Vas and that such a monk would not be entitled to receive the Katina robe or Katina Chivaraya.