Early morning alms giving – what is sai bat or tak bat? | ไส่-บาด

Last month my aunty messaged me asking whether I wanted to join her in going to sai bat the next morning. It would be Makha Bucha day, a significant day for doing good and making merits in the Theravada Buddhist tradition – the strand of Buddhism that is most present in Thailand and its neighbouring countries. I politely declined as I had just landed back in Bangkok late that night and going with her meant I would only get a few hours of sleep.

As I laid in bed later that morning, I reminisced about when we were kids and the times me and my siblings woke up before the sun to help mum get everything ready to go sai bat. We’d carefully prepare sets of home cooked rice, boiled eggs, a soy drink and a dish, wrapping them up nicely and placing them into the basket at the back of the car. By 6.30am we would get to the street lined with people patiently waiting for monks to walk by during their bintabat (alms round). If we hadn’t prepared any food from home we would pick something up from the vendors along the street –  there’s always various stalls selling food, flowers, snacks and drinks.

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Offering fruits to the monks (Image source | Jeff Bell)

What does sai bat mean?

The word sai in Thai means to put, and bat (pronounced like baht, the Thai currency) is the monk’s alms bowl. The word sai bat describes the action of putting offerings into the monk’s alms bowl. This old Buddhist tradition is also commonly called tak bat where tak means to scoop, describing how food and rice are scooped into the bowl.

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Scooping rice into the monk’s alms bowl  (Image source | Thairath)

Because monks in Thailand (and some other countries such as Laos) do not make their own food, they leave their monastery barefooted at around dawn every morning and walk along the streets of their local neighbourhood. Led by the most senior, a line of monks carrying their bat will graciously accept any offerings from people along the way and offer a short blessing in return. Many people will go sai bat on their way to work, and in my case when I was little, we used to go before I was dropped off at school. Monks will get back to their temple at around 8am when they share and consume the food that was given.

What do people usually offer?

Rice, savoury dishes, drinks, fruits, desserts and flowers are commonly offered during morning alms. Monks do not ask for specific foods so the decision and responsibility lies within the giver. The dishes do not need to be vegan or vegetarian but should be clean, thoroughly cooked, not raw and do not go off easily – the world is your oyster! However with more recent reports of high rates of diabetes and high blood pressure amongst Thai monks, everyone should consider offering healthier and more nutritious foods to help keep the monks healthy.

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A typical offering set with rice, curry, stir fries, desserts and drink (Image source | unknown)

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An educational display of what to avoid offering monks – fried foods, sweets, desserts and sugary drinks (Image source | Thai Heart Foundation)

Some dos and don’ts

Sai bat or tak bat is a tradition that does not discriminate, anyone from any age, race or religion can join in on offering food to the monks. As with other interactions with monks, one should dress modestly, act respectfully and not come into contact with them. Do wait for the monks to walk past you and don’t chase them down. Remove your shoes before giving alms and kneel or bow your head to receive the monk’s blessings after you have placed your offering in or on his alm’s bowl.

For many Thais this is an important way to make merit, a way to do good and accumulate good karma. For me, it is also the time spent with loved ones preparing the offerings and the peacefulness gained from starting the day by giving. Although I said no to my aunty last month, an early morning to go sai bat is definitely on the plans!

Did you know?

Thai monks fast from midday to sunrise!