The Buddha’s Robe

The Buddha’s Robe

The robes worn by Theravada monks and nuns of southeast Asia today are thought to be unchanged from the original robes of 25 centuries ago. The robe has three parts:

  • The uttarasanga is the most prominent robe. It is sometimes also called the kashaya robe. It is a large rectangle, about 6 by 9 feet. It can be wrapped to cover both shoulders, but most often it is wrapped to cover the left shoulder but leave the right shoulder and arm bare.
  • The antaravasaka is worn under the uttarasanga. It is wrapped around the waist like a sarong, covering the body from waist to knees.
  • The sanghati is an extra robe that can be wrapped around the upper body for warmth. When not in use, it is sometimes folded and draped over a shoulder.

The original nuns’ robe consisted of the same three parts as the monks’ robe, with two additional pieces, making it a “five-fold” robe. Nuns wear a bodice (samkacchika) under the utterasanga, and they carry a bathing cloth (udakasatika).

Today, Theravada women’s robes are usually in muted colors, such as white or pink, instead of bright spice colors. However, fully ordained Theravada nuns are rare.

By Barbara O’Brien, Zen Buddhist practitioner

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