The Pali term upaṭṭhāka may be familiar from the modern Thai word upathak, which means an appointed attendant to a senior monk. The literal meaning of the term is “one who stands near”, and it may be compared with the related term upaniṣad, “sitting near”.
It is usually translated as “attendant”, but in the EBTs it has three distinct uses that, I believe, are more idiomatically rendered per-context.
- “Attendant”: this is the same sense as noted above, a mendicant who looks after another, typically a senior. This would include general duties like helping with chores, or tasks such as managing appointments, which we see Ānanda doing for the Buddha.
- “Carer” or “nurse”: For a sick mendicant, the duty of care falls to the upaṭṭhāka, who in suttas such as AN 3.22 is given various duties and responsibilities that are essentially identical with a modern nurse or carer. “Carer” may be better, as it is not a specialized position. In any case, in modern English we don’t use “attendant” for this.
- “Supporter”: In places such as Ud 2.8 or MN 81, a mendicant is said to have a lay upaṭṭhāka. This is not an “attendant”, as they do not offer personal services in the same way, but rather is one who supports the mendicant with meals or other requisites. Here, the modern term is “supporter”.