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How do Buddhist Monks Wear Their Robes?

How do Buddhist Monks wear their robes by Haute Culture photo Ajay Sood

Have you ever asked a monk to take off his robes? No? Just me then… The burning question that has been on all our minds (or just mine) has finally been answered. But asking a monk to get undressed and dressed again wasn’t as bad as it sounds. How does one find out how the Buddhist monks wear their robes? Simply by asking!


Shrouded in secrecy and sacrosanct, monks have always been an forsaken mystery to me. Wrapped from breast to toe in enough manipulated fabric to give Yohji Yamamoto a run for his money, I’ve long wondered what draping design permits the special silhouettes of the saffron sect.

As with many devoted religious groups, Buddhist monks are forbidden to touch a women, be touched by a women, too be alone with a women at any time, and even to accept offerings from a women (except in the Giving of Alms). Basically monks and women don’t mix. Such a opportunity was always going to be very few and far between. A fact I thought I would never learn. So when I glanced across a carpark and caught said monk dressing in his robes out in public, I thought there was no better time to leg it over and carpe diem!

I tore across the temple grounds with my palms in prayer position, a stupendous smile slapped across my face and translator in tow. The monk graciously stepped away from the car he was just about to occupy and walked towards us with eyebrows raised. My attentive assistant Oak from the Thailand Association of Travel Agents managed to convey that my request was purely in the aid of research. The monk took my business card and agree to share the sartorial secrets of the sacred. WATCH THE VIDEO BELOW!

How do Buddhist Monks wear their robes by Haute Culture photo Travelure Ajay Sood

How do Buddhist Monks wear their robes by Haute Culture photo Travelure

Photos by Ajay Sood at Travelure

Basic Buddhist Uniform
Buddhist robes also known as Kāṣāya and are simply worn by monks because Buddha himself wore robes. The design of the robe is said to keep monks cool in summer, warm in winter and cover enough of their body to protect them from mosquito bites whilst meditating. You will see from the video that the construction of the garments are sewn together in long panels, it is said that this design was inspired by the linear formation of rice paddy fields from 25 centuries ago.

Robes were primarily meant to symbolize simplicity and detachment of materialism, because of this monks in the past were not permitted to buy cloth for their robes and so clothes could only be made from patch worked pieces of savaged fabrics. Today’s Theravada monks of South East Asia know no such hardship as scavenging for cloth in the rubbish tips, their robes are now either purchased by or donated to the monastery.

There are 3 main parts to a Kāṣāya

  1. Uttarasanga is the big rectangular piece of fabric draped over the top of the body cover the under garments. This is usually 4 x 9 ft long.
  2. Antarvāsa is the under top covering one shoulder and the chest down to the hips.
  3. Tricivara is the waist cloth similar to a sarong that comes above the navel and below the knees.

Watch the Video


Sacred Saffron
Next question, why do monks wear orange? Principle Prakru Sathapon of Phra That Chae Haeng School for Buddhism stated;

“Originally dye was used on natural fibers to conceal the dirt from the forest. Orange was chosen mainly because it was the only dye available at the time. Monks used natural ingredients such as tamarind, saffron, jack fruit and red tree bark.  The tradition stuck and orange is now the color of choice for Theravada Buddhist followers in Southeast Asia.”

Buddhist monks in different countries wear slightly different styles and colours. Tibetan and some Chinese monks wear a rich maroon colour and in Myanmar women wear a feminine shade of petal pink.

Pink Monks of Myanmar by Tim walker

Photo credit: Myanmar Monks by Tim Walker for W Magazine May 2104

 

Monks at Labrang monastery, Xiahe, Gansu

Photo credit: Monks at Labrang monastery, Xiahe, Gansu by Sekitar


What do you think? Are you as impressed as me by the creative draping techniques of the monks robes? If you have any further information about the Kāṣāya please let me know. Don’t be shy, I would love connect with you and to hear your comments below.

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Learn how buddhist monks wear their robes


Where 

Chiang Rai Temple in Phrea province, North Thailand. This event was completely impromptu but made possible by the Thai Association of Tourism 

Useful References

  1. http://answers.worldnomads.com/questions/thailand/3505/in-what-country-are-women-not-allowed-to-touch-or-be-touched-by-monks
  2. http://buddhism.about.com/od/thefirstbuddhists/a/robes.htm
  3. http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/buddhistworld/robe_txt.htm
  4. http://www.thaibuddhist.com/how-to-put-on-the-monks-robes/
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kasaya_(clothing)
  6. https://viss.wordpress.com/2014/12/09/why-do-burmese-monks-wear-maroon-colored-robes/
  7. http://www.accesstoinsight.org/theravada.html
  8. http://astairwaytofashion.com/2014/04/30/edie-campbell-by-tim-walker-for-w-may-2014/
  9. http://www.wmagazine.com/culture/2014/05/tim-walker-burma/
  10. http://www.travelure.in/

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  • TeacakeTravels (@teacaketravels)
    October 27, 2015 at 4:36 am

    Love it! Well done for seizing the moment!

    • donna
      October 27, 2015 at 4:37 am

      haha you know me, I’m all over it. glad you enjoyed it 🙂

  • Nisha Jha
    October 27, 2015 at 7:04 am

    Wow! What a post. For a minute I thought this was for restrcited audience 🙂 🙂 . I love your blog and your writing about attires of various cultures. I invite you and your readers to visit my blog.

    • donna
      October 27, 2015 at 2:40 pm

      thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  • Rutavi Mehta (@rutaagayire)
    October 27, 2015 at 2:35 pm

    Donna, This is beautiful and so informative . I always wonder about these monks as I was very fascinated :)..

    • donna
      October 27, 2015 at 2:41 pm

      yes I know me too 🙂

  • Trish Copeland
    October 29, 2015 at 1:55 am

    Just discovered your blog through Facebook. That video was fascinating! What a wonderful opportunity for you to stumble into!!

    • donna
      October 29, 2015 at 1:58 am

      hey Trish, I know that’s why it’s a bit shaky to start because I could believe he let me film it, I kinda threw myself on the floor, hahaha. glad you liked it!

  • Valerie Gobeil
    November 24, 2016 at 5:00 pm

    Amazing video!! Thank you so much for sharing!! I LOVE LOVE LOVE your website, Instagram and everything else. Ok, I’m a fan, I think you get it. 😉

    • donna
      November 25, 2016 at 12:49 am

      Thanks for stopping by, happy to have a new fan. Be sure to subscribe and get a free guide to geisha culture 😍

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