Article: Giving alms

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

After the offering of food

This painting from an 18th-century Ādityavāra-kathā manuscript depicts ladies venerating a monk. Though he is dressed in white, like a Śvetāmbara monk, the mendicant is of the Digambara sect. His water pot and broom nearby, the monk sits on a low platform

Ladies pay their respects to a monk
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

When the alms have been given and received, there is a further rite to perform before the ceremony of alms-giving is considered to have ended. This mainly involves the lay people who have donated alms.

Digambara ritual after the monk has eaten alms

1

When the monk has finished eating, he sits down on the low stool.

2

The lay people give him water to wash his hands and rinse his mouth.

3

If any food has fallen on his body, they wipe it off with a moist piece of cloth.

4

When the monk stands up to go, the donors accompany him to his lodgings and hand him the peacock-feather broom and water pot.

5

The food that has been left is distributed among those present as a back-offering – prasāda.

The monk has remained silent from the moment he makes the ritual gesture of seeking alms, known as āhāra-mudrā – 'food-gesture'. After the alms-giving ceremony has finished, he may talk once again.

When he leaves the donors, the monk goes back to his teacher or to the group to which he belongs and gives a report on the food he has been offered, giving details about the laity’s behaviour and so on.

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