During my last stay in Bangkok, after a walk to my favorite view from Wat Saket (Golden Mountain) over Bangkok, I just recently stepped into one of the last workshops for producing Monk bowls, located around Soi Ban Baat, south of Wat Saket.
Local people in the city are renewing efforts to keep alive the ancient craft of making baat, the alms bowls used by monks to receive offerings to food. The Ban Baat community, in a small lane off Boriphat road on the outside rim of the old city of Rattanakosin, once drew its income from making monk’s bowls. The community is believed to have started as a settlement of refugees fleeing the war with Burma in Ayutthaya. Now only three families keep the tradition alive.
Hiran Suasriserm, 43, a community leader and master craftsman, said the craft suffered when Chinese merchants began making bowls using modern machinery. Many families were forced to abandon the trade. "My sister who inherited the trade thought about giving it up but I disagreed. I told her if we give up, the baan craft would become just a legend.
I must fight to keep it going fort he sake of our ancestors who left this cultural heritage for us to preserve," Mr. Hiran said.
The craft caught the attention of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration. A couple of years ago, Mr. Hiran said, the Pom Prap Satru Phai district chief stepped in to promote the community as a
That brought in the tourists. Tourists often take bowls as souvenirs back home with them. Increased sales helped support the three craft families and their 30 workers. Mr. Hiran said, the city administration would improve the export. "We are thankful for their help because otherwise we might not survive."
Mr. Hiran’s sister, Mrs. Mayun, said her eldest daughter has agreed to take over the business. Maneerat Nakharat, 26, would take care of the investment and management side while Mrs. Mayuri would
supervise workers. Mrs. Maneerat said she felt attached to the craft. As a young girl, she watched craftsmen beat iron into bowls, clean and polish the metal.
"We have to adopt different business practices, such as launching a campaign to draw foreign tourists. We have to let outsiders know as much as about us as possible," she said. Craftsman Saengthongkham, 65, said he began as an apprentice at age 15. "You need patience and a love of the craft to be a good craftsman," he said. "I have stayed because I appreciate the change to promote Buddhism and make merit." Srinuan Sompong, 56, has also been practicing the craft since she was young. The occupation was passed down by my ancestors. It’s in my blood. I’m proud to do what can hardly be found elsewhere. “Mr. Hiran is now confident the craft will survive. "We’ll try to keep our baat-making craft as long as possible. We will not abandon our cultural heritage as long as we live."
Each bowl is assembled from eight strips of metal that represent Buddha’s Eightfold Path. Strips are fired for six hours, hammered into a curve, overlaid like spokes, and soldered together. The surface then gets polished and lacquered to a deep sheen.
This text was published in the Bangkok Post, 11.August 2003.
"Bart" (or Baat) means alm bowl in Thai language. It’s a bowl monks accept food with. Bart has a significant cultural and historical important in Buddhist societies and in Thailand. These alms bowls are usually made of clay and steel. Today an ancient community in Baan Bart in Bangkok is the last manufacturer of steel barts in Thailand. Most of the locals have turned away from this traditionalist way of life, but one family remains faithful to the art of making traditional steel bart.
The Sua sri Sermfamily is keeping the art of making traditional steel alms bowls according to the Buddhist teachings alive in today’s machine oriented world.
It normally takes around 2–3 days to make a single alms bowl. One of the "artists" that keep the art of making traditional handmade alms bowls alive is Hirun Suasriserm. "I love doing this. You have to love it to be doing it. It’s not easy and it won’t get you rich.
Really, it’s all about your inner happiness," said Hirun.
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