What are Buddhist Monk Robes?

The Buddhist Monk Robes have become an important part of their custom dating more than 20 centuries to the period of historic Buddha.

The Buddhist monks and nuns wore robes mended from rags, as did many Indian holy mendicant men of the era.

With the growth of the travelling communal disciples of Lord Buddha, he decided that some rules about Monk Robes were necessary which were recorded in the Vinaya-Pitaka of the Pali Canon or Tripitaka.

What are Monk Robes made from?

What are Monk Robes made from
What are Monk Robes made from?

Lord Buddha decided that the Buddhist Monk Robes must be made from “Pure Cotton” material as it was considered as waste during that era.

The different types of pure cloth that were used as monk robes were;

  1. Cloth burnt by fire.
  2. A cloth used as a blanket to wrap the dead before cremation.
  3. Cloth munched by rats or oxen.
  4. Cloth stained by childbirth or menstrual blood.

Monks would go into rubbish heaps and cremation grounds to find such cloth and use it as per the instructions of Buddha.

To give the cloth a yellowish-orange color, following procedure was adopted;

  • All the unusable portions of cloth were trimmed and removed.
  • The cloth was washed and then dyed.
  • To dye the cloth, it was boiled with a vegetable matter like bark, flowers and tubers.
  • Finally, to give the orange-yellow colour spices like turmeric and saffron was used extensively.

This gave to the origin of “Saffron Robes” which is still very popular in various parts of the world.

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Various parts of the world adopted this technique of using spices to give colour to the robes like the Theravada monks of southeast Asia.

They often use paprika, curry and cumin to develop saffron orange colour for monk robes.

However, in the 21st century, you will find is uncommon among the Buddhist nuns and monks to look for cloth among the cremations zones and rubbish heaps.

Instead, the modern Buddhist Monk ropes are those donated by the people or the devotes.

What are the different types of Buddhist Monk Robes?

In this comprehensive guide, we will cover the 10 different types of Buddhist Monks’ Robes for a complete understanding of the concept of robes in Buddhism.

1. The Saffron Robe

As Buddhism spread to various parts of the world the way of wearing robes by Buddhist nuns and monks also changes according to the regional traditions and climatic conditions.

The Saffron Robe
The Saffron Robe

The Saffron Monk Robes adapted by the Southeast Asians is believed to be the most identical ones to the robes that existed more than 20 years ago.

However, the robe style of the Monks from China, Korea, Japan and Tibet is a bit different and unique.

There are countless variations of the monk robes that exists nowadays and it would simply not be possible to put all the designs and variations at one single place.

However, most of the monk robes have few things in common that can be observed with careful inspection and knowhow of the robes across the globe.

The Triple and Five-Fold Monk Robes

The robes adopted by southeast Asia i.e. those worn by the Theravada monks have the most similarity with those robes that existed more than 20 centuries back in the history.

Buddha's Robe
Buddha’s Robe

Here are the characteristics of the Triple Fold Monk Robes;

  • The uttarasanga or the kashaya is the most noticeable robe that is largely rectangular, about 10 feet long. It can be either wrapped around both the shoulders or sometimes just cover the left one and keep the right one bare.
  • The antaravasaka is wrapped around the waist covering the body from knees to the waist like a sarong, worn under the uttarasanga or the kashaya.
  • The sanghati is a spare robe that has no regular use and can be wrapped around the upper body or draped over the shoulder to give warmth to the body of the monk.

The Buddhist Nun Monk Robes consist of two additional parts making it five-fold monk rubs.

These included a bodice (samkacchika) under the utterasanga, and they carry a bathing cloth (udakasatika).

Today, it is extremely difficult to find fully designed Theravada women’s original robes.

However, now the women have adapted to colours like pink or white in place of spice bright colour combinations.

2. Buddhist Monks’ Robes in Cambodia

Buddhist Monks' Robes in Cambodia
Buddhist Monks’ Robes in Cambodia

Theravada one of the most dominant form of Buddhism in countries like;

  • Burma – Myanmar
  • Laos
  • Thailand
  • Cambodia
  • Sri Lanka

When the climate gets too cold to bear then the Buddhist monks make use of the spare robe i.e. the sanghati for extra warmth around the shoulders or over the body.

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The monks that wrap the sanghati around their shoulders are called the Angor Wat monks of Cambodia.

The Buddhist monks in these countries still wear the monk robes in the style of traditional robes that were adopted more than 25 centuries ago.

3. The Rice Field Pattern of Buddha’s Robe

The rice field patter or the rice paddy fields is very common to the Buddhist across the world.

The Rice Field Pattern of Buddha’s Robe
The Rice Field Pattern of Buddha’s Robe

As per the texts of Vinaya-Pitaka, Lord Buddha requested his chief caretaker Ananda to create a beautiful rice field pattern for the monk robes.

Ananda designed the monk robes into a unique pattern representing rice paddies that were separated by finer shreds to signify paths between the fields.

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Even in the 21st century, most of the garments are worn with this traditional design across the world and this has made the pattern extremely popular and famous, which is usually a 5-column patter of strips but could exceed up to 10 columns.

As per the Zen culture, the rice paddy pattern signifies a “formless field of benefaction” or simply a mandala signifying the world.

The Rice field patter is often rectangular but separated by strips to form paths that are made from dry grounds.

4. The Buddhist Monk Robes in China

The Chinese Buddhists have adopted a unique style of using monk robes with sleeves instead of bare shoulder robes.

The Buddhist Monk Robes in China
The Buddhist Monk Robes in China

As per the Chinese traditions, the bare shoulder tradition of the monk robes was inappropriate.

To adapt to the Chinese culture and spread the teachings of Buddhism the Chinese Buddhists adopted the new style of wearing robes.

It is with sleeves analogous to a Taoist scholar’s robe of the 1st millennium CE.

Because Chinese Buddhist monks subsisted in self-sufficient ascetic groups, monks spent part of each day doing sheltered and nursery errands.

The kashaya was not used as regular or everyday wear but was used only for special occasions or ceremonies.

5. The Traditional Buddha’s Robe in China

The Traditional Buddha’s Robe in China involved wearing kashaya over the sleeved robes during rituals or ceremonies.

The Traditional Buddha's Robe in China
The Traditional Buddha’s Robe in China

Although the Chines kashaya used the rice paddy pattern of monk robes an abbot’s kashaya might be made of lavish, brocaded cloth.

Saffron or Yellow is the mutual colour for monks’ sleeved robes.

In China, the colour yellow represents the earth and sometimes is used about signify equanimity as a central colour of the country.

6. The Buddhist Monks’ Robes in Kyoto, Japan

The Buddhist Monks' Robes in Kyoto, Japan
The Buddhist Monks’ Robes in Kyoto, Japan

In Japan, the Buddhist monks still practice the tradition of wearing kashaya over the sleeved robes. 

The Buddhist Monks’ Robes in Kyoto, Japan have many variations in colour and design of these robes.

The exercise of trying a smaller outer robe over a lengthier grey or white kimono is peculiarly part of the Japanese Monk Robe wearing culture.

7. The Buddha’s Monk Robes in Japan

The Zen monks prefer to wear the kashaya robe, the small garment piece of which is called the rakusu. It is often represented by a bib in pictures and images found online.

The Buddha's Monk Robes in Japan
The Buddha’s Monk Robes in Japan

The rakusu is a very unique and elite garment piece that has its origins with China’s T’ang Dynasty, developed by the Ch’an monks.

The rectangular designed miniature kashaya often match with the rice field patter that may contain, four, five, six or up to nine strips with different colour variations available in the global markets.

As per the Zen traditions, anyone who has received the jukai ordination is eligible to wear the rakusu including the Buddhist monks and the priests.

However, may Zen monks preferred to wear the Japanese Kesa in place of the Rakusu once they complete the full ordination which is considered to be their standard Kashaya.

During the Takamatsu or the alms ceremony, the monk’s straw hat is used to cover the face partially so that their face is not visible to those giving them alms and vice versa.

This works on the underlying principle of “No Giver and No Receiver” which focuses on the art of giving.

The colour of koromo is often black, however, there are various variations of sleeve sizes and colours available in the market.

8. The Buddhist Monk Robes in Korea

The Buddha’s Robe in South Korea differ based on the size of the monks and living styles. Same as China and Japan, the Korean Buddhist monks prefer to wear a kashaya robe over a sleeved robe.

The Buddhist Monk Robes in Korea
The Buddhist Monk Robes in Korea

Also, like China, the Korean Monk Robes market is filled with various variants of the robes based on different colours and design specifications.

Every year, this Chogye (Korean Zen) cloister in Seoul “ordains” children provisionally, shaving their heads and dressing them in monks’ robes.

The children will learn about Buddhism for almost a month while living the monastery.

The little monks adapt the style of rakusu by wearing little kashaya robes. However, the traditional kashaya style is adopted by the big monks of the monastery.

9. The Buddhist Monks’ Robe in Tibet

The Buddhist Monk Robes in Tibet comprises of a shirt and a skit instead on a single unit robe. In the outer surface, one might adopt the shawl type of role design.

The Buddhist Monks' Robe in Tibet
The Buddhist Monks’ Robe in Tibet

The Tibetan lamas, monks, priests and nuns wear a wide variety of hats, caps, costumes and robes. However, few things remain and same and some of them are;

DhonkaIt is a wrap shirt with cap sleeves that has a maroon or yellow colour with blue piping in it.
ShemdapIt is a marron skirt made from a patched cloth with different pleats on it. 
ChöguIt is similar to a sanghati, which the monks wear on the upper body. It is made in patches and draped over the shoulder like a kashaya robe. It is yellow and worn on special occasions and rituals.
ZhenThis is maroon in colour and can be used for regular purposes. The design is similar to Chögu.
NamjarIt is used for formal rituals, usually yellowish. Its size is larger than a chögu, with more patches on the surface.
List of Buddhist Monks’ Robe in Tibet

10. The Buddhist Monk Robes: A Tibetan Monk and His Zhen

The Buddhist Monk Robes_ A Tibetan Monk and His Zhen
The Buddhist Monk Robes: A Tibetan Monk and His Zhen

The monks of Tibet have completely different robes that adopted by Buddhist monks around the globe.

Although these monks have a different style of monk robes yet the common colours found are;

  1. Yellow
  2. Red colour with blue piping on the dhonka sleeves.
  3. Maroon
  4. Saffron

During the ancient era, the Red and Maroon colours were adopted by the Tibetan monks as it was the cheapest colour die available in the market.

On the other end the yellow colour has significant meaning in the Tibetan culture;

  • It means earth and by extension, the foundation.
  • It also means wealth and prosperity.

The Dhonka sleeves signify a lion’s tresses and numerous tales are explaining the blue piping, but the most shared story is that it memorializes the association to China.

The Zen which is a maroon regular shawl is draped to leave the right arm bare in the style of a kashaya robe.

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As per different Buddhist texts and books, in the early ascetic days, Buddhist monks would go out on their charities, wearing the Buddhist Monk Robes.

They went from door to door carrying their upper robe and a bowl in their hands, lifting it upwards to collect the alms.

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People Also Ask (FAQs)

What are the different colour monk robes?

Although these monks have a different style of monk robes yet the common colours found are a yellow, red colour with blue piping on the dhonka sleeves, maroon and saffron.

What do monks wear?

The Monks wear monk robes that have become an important part of their custom dating more than 25 centuries to the period of historic Buddha. The monks and nuns wore robes mended from rags.