Alms bowl

  • Earthenware, blackened in firing
  • 18.1 x 28.9 cm
  • 18th-19th century
  • Origin: Burma, Laos, or Northern Thailand
  • Gift of Osborne and Gratia Hauge, and Victor and Takako Hauge
  • S2005.207


Black alms bowl with wide mouth and round bottom. A crack on mouth.
Clay: buff earthenware, polished, blackened by reduction firing.
Glaze: none.
Decoration: none.

Curatorial Remarks

1. (Candy Chan, Research Assistant, May 14, 2003) Small quantities of black alms bowls were produced in Wor Khok in Shan States, Burma. Black water bottles, Buddhist altar vases, and water jars with lids were also made there (Tsuda 2001).

Tsuda Takenori. 2001. "Myanmaa, Shyan-shū no tōji (2) (Ceramics in Shan States, Burma (2))." Tōsetsu 578: 24–32.

2. (Louise Cort, 21 August 2003) In 1922 W. A. Graham wrote: "Concerning the alms-bowl of the mendicant Buddhist monk, called 'Bhatr", (from the Sanskrit 'Patra', a plate or cup). My youth was spent in a part of Burma where alms-bowls are made of hard pottery, turned a shining black by a coat of sessamum oil applied before firing in the kiln.... I have, however, seen several old pottery alms bowls at Ayuthia.... I am told that in the Chiang Mai neighborhood also, where fine black pottery is made, the 'Bhatr" is usually of iron but that many old earthenware bowls are preserved in Wat [monasteries], and that once upon a time they were all of this material" (Rooney ed. 1986, 21).

In 1990 I saw earthenware alms bowls being made at a Chinese-run ceramics factory in Ratchburi.

Graham, W. A. 1922. "Pottery in Siam." The Journal of the Siam Society, 16(1): 1–27. Reprinted in Rooney, Dawn F. ed. 1986. Pp. 11–37 in Thai Pottery and Ceramics: collected articles from the Journal of the Siam Society, 1922–1980: Bangkok: The Siam Society. .

3. (Louise Cort, 17 September 2003) According to Bundit 1999, the food bowl is one of eight personal items permitted to a Theravada Buddhist monk. Food bowls found in Thailand dating from the Dvaravati (7th–11th centuries) and Sukhothai (13th–15th centuries) periods are made of clay; iron bowls begin to be used in the Ayutthaya period (1350–1767) and became dominant during the Bangkok period (1782 to present). Aluminum bowls are common in the present day.

Research by Charlotte Reith, Alexandria, Virginia (1998 manuscript), led her to visit the village of Letthit, near Mandalay, a name recorded in earlier articles and gazetteers. She discovered that the production of alms bowls took place in the adjacent village, Thaa Pait Tan, "Alms Bowl Place." The potter throws the vessel as a deep dish form, using a wheel, then finishes the form with a paddle and anvil followed by a ring-shaped metal tool. The bowl is polished using four small, smooth stones held between the fingers of one hand.  The alms bowls are fired in an updraft kiln, with reduction induced by inserting green wood and sealing the kiln at the close of the firing to produce smoke to blacken the bowls. (Some bowls are finished with a coat with lacquer.)

Bundit Leuchaichan. 1999. "The Food Bowl and Its History". Pp. 524–537 in Thailand: Culture and Society. Bangkok: Pricess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn Anthropology Center.   

Reith, Charlotte. 1998. Alms Bowl Place—Tha Pait Tan (Unpublished manuscript).

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