A group of nearly 2 dozen monks hurried towards me as I caught hold of this unfamiliar religious act in Luang Prabang called Tak Bat for the first time. They were all barefoot, looking and walking straight in one line. The first few in the queue, as I guessed, were in their late teens, followed by some as young as 7 or 8 years old. This is how every morning in Luang Prabang is rewarded – with the colorful sight of hundreds of saffron-robed Buddhist monks and novices walking in a peaceful procession through the sleepy streets of the city, accepting alms from locals.
This daily ritual of Tak Bat in which kneeling locals give rice and fruits and snacks (or what can otherwise be offered and called as alms) to the monks, is a timeless tradition that dates back its existence to the 14th century. Every day, hundreds of monks (from 30+ monasteries across the town) would walk barefoot, and in meditative silence, through the streets of Luang Prabang to collect food offerings from local people.
This handful of rice and other things that local people happily donate is the monks’ only food for the rest of the day before they return to the streets tomorrow morning and the morning after!
It was great to see how despite in the age of iPhones, fast cars, and buffet lunches, monks in this part of the world were still relying on whatever little they managed to get from others.
This daily ritual of Tak Bat, also called Sai Bat, is a living Buddhist tradition. It is by only accepting what others voluntarily give, monks maintain their vows to practice redundancy and gain merit for the afterlife.
Throughout Luang Prabang, hundreds of monks come out of the monasteries to perform this daily ritual. It is possible to see alms giving in parts of Thailand, India and in many other places in Asia, but the kind of sight that Luang Prabang offers is a little intense. It kind of takes you back in time.
One can experience Tak Bat in Luang Prabang every morning at dawn, and not just at one place but across the old town!
What You Need to Know Before You Attend Tak Bat As A Tourist
Off-late there has been a lot of debate on what a tourist should or shouldn’t do while attending Tak Bat. Since Tak Bat is a religious practice being continued since the 14th century, it is nothing less than a cultural heritage that, with wrong behavior by tourists, can be endangered.
During my nearly one-week stay in Luang Prabang, I happened to attend Tak Bat thrice, and every morning, there was at least once instance where I found tourists acting a little absurdly, making monks feel uncomfortable just a little more.
Attending Tak Bat is not prohibited, and neither is clicking pictures of monks or of people giving alms, if only you do it the right way while keeping respect in your eyes for whatever’s happening and whomever you’re clicking out there.
And if you’re not sure ‘how’ just think of how you will behave if you’re asked to attend the Sunday prayers in your local church or temple, or better put, needed to cover the event as a photographer. What will you do? You will keep distance, not come in front of the priest when he is moving forward, not speak loudly, or laugh or pose and click selfies, right? That’s all that’s needed here too. No bikini tops, no loud talking, no touching the monks, no taking photographs of with a distracting flash, and certainly, no jostling other worshippers — that’s all that’s needed!
Disclaimer: I visited Laos on a blog-trip with Singapore Airlines, Fly Scoot, and Changi Airport. Where my trip was sponsored by them, all recommendations are solely personal. I only recommend what I personally try, and find worth appreciating!