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!
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
- 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.
- Antarvāsa is the under top covering one shoulder and the chest down to the hips.
- Tricivara is the waist cloth similar to a sarong that comes above the navel and below the knees.
Watch the Video
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.
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.
Did you love this post? Add your email to our subscription list and never miss a awesome post from my fashionable adventures around the world! Sign me up!
Pin This Picture
Chiang Rai Temple in Phrea province, North Thailand. This event was completely impromptu but made possible by the Thai Association of Tourism