Bhikkhuni Pc 47: What is the Āvasathacīvara? Mestrual cloth or monstery robe?

I noticed a while ago that Ajahn Brahmali translated Āvasathacīvara as a ‘monastery robe’ in Bhikkhuni Pacittiya 47. whereas previous translations use the term ‘menstrual cloth’ which then would liken it to cloth menstrual pads.

From this (mis)understanding, I have heard the advice that if one has reusable menstrual products they need to be undetermined/mentally reliquished and redetermined each month… (but the stores don’t want them back!).

Looking more closely at the rule it would seem more sensible that it is some kind of robe. It is only washed after 4 days :face_with_raised_eyebrow:

if she uses it for two or three days, washes it on the fourth day, and then uses it again without relinquishing it to a nun or a trainee nun or a novice nun, she commits an offense entailing confession.

Was this a robe worn like some monastics wear a bathing cloth; rolled it to their lower robe?

I’ve tried to search elsewhere for the term Āvasathacīvara but it’s nowhere else in the Pali. I’m hoping one of my learned Venerable friends could shed more light? Though I’m not going to tag anyone in at this stage as I don’t wish to embarrass anyone.


I can’t speak for Ven Brahmali’s choices here, but I think the problem is solved in the Bhikkhuni Khandhaka:

Menstruating nuns sat down and lay down on upholstered beds and benches. The furniture was stained with blood. They told the Buddha.

“A nun should not sit down or lay down on upholstered beds or benches. If she does, she commits an offense of wrong conduct. I allow a monastery robe (āvasathacīvara).”

The monastery robe became stained with blood. They told the Buddha.

“I allow a menstruation pad (āṇicoḷaka).”

It looks like the “monastery robe” was a cloth that was placed on furniture to prevent it from being soiled, perhaps not unlike the white cloths that are used for that purpose today. This would explain why it could be used for several days without washing, why Thullananda did not stop using it, and why it was shared: it’s not a personal cloth. It would also explain why, according to the commentary, it could be valuable enough that thieves might want to steal it.

The word āṇicoḷaka literally means “plug of cloth”, with āṇi having the senses “bolt, pin, plug”. I’d suggest that “tampon” is the obvious translation rather than “menstrual pad”.


This is what he once said to the topic: Notes on the segmentation of Pali Vinaya with Brahmali's translation - #177 by Brahmali


Hey Ven @brahmali whadya think?

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I agree, especially since monastics traditionally didn’t wear underwear, so they couldn’t use menstrual pads.



Perhaps “residence cloth” or “house cloth” would be a better translation.


The āvasathacīvara was a robe worn by bhikkhunīs at the time menstruation. As pointed out by Bhante Sujato, the Bhikkhunī-kkhandhaka makes a distinction between the āvasathacīvara and āṇicoḷaka, where the latter is the sanitary product. That the āvasathacīvara was a robe, and not just a cloth placed on furniture, is clear from the word cīvara and the non-offence clause to bhikkhunī-pācittiya 47, which says there is no offence for using the āvasathacīvara at the wrong time if one’s ordinary robes are stolen or lost/destroyed. In other words, the āvasathacīvara can be used as a spare robe under special circumstances.

As for the āṇicoḷaka, as far as I can tell it must refer to a pad, not a tampon. The story in the Bhikkhunī-kkhandhaka is as follows:

Menstruating nuns sat down and lay down on upholstered beds and benches. The furniture was stained with blood. They told the Buddha.

“A nun should not sit down or lay down on upholstered beds or benches. If she does, she commits an offense of wrong conduct. I allow a monastery robe.”

The monastery robe became stained with blood. They told the Buddha.

“I allow a menstruation pad .”

The pad fell off. They told the Buddha.

“I allow the nuns to attach a string and then bind it to the thigh.”

The string snapped. They told the Buddha.

“I allow a loin cloth and a girdle.”

This does not mean, of course, that tampons are unallowable. Perhaps they were not used in India at the time.

Perhaps, except that according to the Vibhaṅga the cloth was given specifically to nuns. I think it is likely to be similar to the vihāracīvara, “monastery robe”, mentioned at bhikkhu nissaggiya pācittiya 6. It seems they were robes belonging to a dwelling, rather than to an individual.

Thanks for bringing me into this discussion. I am always interested to take part in any discussion concerning the Vinaya. If I have things wrong, I would like to make changes. If not, I would like to argue may case. A lot of thought has gone into a translation such as this. Please tag me also in the future.


Well, that makes sense.

We should probably cede the floor to those better qualified, but I think it would be an assumption to say that tampons in ancient times were designed in such a way that they never fell out. Even modern ones do sometimes. In fact, I would contest that that this passage is telling us that they did; that they would normally be expected to stay in place without any additional support, but that sometimes help was needed.

Āṇi means “plug” and Ayya Vimalanyani’s point still stands: absent underwear, there is no way for a pad to be held in place.

Incidentally, there are few details about ancient tampons that are repeated endlessly on the web, from which I have gleaned:

  • if this is indeed a tampon, it is probably the earliest historical mention of a tampon in the modern sense
  • the Vinaya is still largely disregarded in historical studies
  • being a woman is hard

Thanks everyone for your responses :smiley:

A bhikkhuni who stayed with me a few years ago would tie pads on using a string and girdle arrangement. I’m not sure of the details but it seemed to be the practice at her Thai bhikkhuni monastery (no underwear).

I can’t see how a girdle would help keep a tampon in place, though it would stop it hitting the floor.


So can a tablecloth, no? :pray: I don’t see how exceptional usage proves how it was used under normal circumstances.


I thought that prior to adhesive pads a belt system was used.

This is how I imagined the belt system.

The whole idea of the Buddha personally dealing with this stuff seems quite odd. You’d really think that the bhikkhuni sangha would make their own decisions on such issues. Man-handling by the compilers?


Of course this is all in the realm of speculation, but I imagine that these particular issues would have come up quite early on in the life of the Bhikkhuni sangha. At that point it would have made sense that the bhikkhunis went to the Buddha quite often, as the monks were already doing. I also wonder if the fact that they were royal women (at first) and perhaps they had some uncertainty around what would have been appropriate for mendicants. And if there were different practices for women in different positions in society, it also makes sense to me that they would have sought out a neutral third party to advise on what was best for the whole community.

But if the male compilers did have a hand in recording what the bhikkhunis were doing, it doesn’t seem odd to me that they would attribute the decisions to the Buddha.


It’s easy to take it for granted, but I would take a bet that the Vinaya is the only document anywhere in the world for the next 2000 years that dealt with menstruation purely as a practical issue of health and hygiene, with no trace of superstition and taboo. That we can discuss a 2500 year old text without even imagining that black magic is involved is utterly unique and astonishing. But for we students of early Buddhism, it’s so normal that we don’t even notice it. We think blood magic is the weird exception.

And I’ll just take this chance to promote my book!


This is no doubt true, but then this an origin story. The origin stories are often far from perfectly connected to the rules they are supposed to explain. In the present instance, pads may never actually have been used without a holding-in-place mechanism, yet the idea is a sufficient reason for the string allowance.

If this were the only piece of evidence, I would agree with you. But we have the further problem of how a string is supposed to keep a tampon in place:

In theory you’re right. Yet the term cīvara always refers to a robe or robe-cloth. Moreover, it seems more practical to wear such a cloth than to drape it over whatever furniture one happens to sit on. The fact that the āvasathacīvara was used as a spare robe under special circumstances fits with this picture. We need a bit more evidence to render it as cloth placed on furniture.

Yes, I think this is quite likely. In fact I find it hard to imagine that the Buddha was personally involved with laying down a lot of the minor rules in the Khandhakas. They are just too trivial. And then we have the fact that there is a lot variety between the traditions.


This is always a matter of perspective. He lived as a teacher for 45 years. It seems completely plausible to me that respectful monks would have consulted on all manner of things. I see this in the community I live in now. Obviously monks wouldn’t have trekked across the country to get a ruling on things every time an issue came up. However once an issue was raised with him, there would surely been enough “rule oriented monks” around to preserve and spread his advice.

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My grandmother used to say they used folded cloth, but had loops stitched on the ends. A piece of string was sent through and around the waist, and run through the back loop. Then tied around the waist. Kinda like a belt. She dropped out of school after puberty, you can imagine why. This is 1930s though :hugs:


@Sujato @Snowbird

I thought that prior to adhesive pads a belt system was used.

yes indeed. So just to get the relatively recent history of such things clarified… even when I was a young teen and started menstruating we had no adhesive pads. One had to wear what was called a ‘sanitary belt’ which was basically a circle of elastic which went around the waist (under the underwear but underwear was not needed in any way for this purpose) with little elastic extensions with a type of clip on each side that you threaded the front and back ends of the pad into (the pads were made such that they had little ends sticking out for this purpose). Hmm, guess I’m older than most on the forum (this would have been in about the mid 60’s) :slight_smile: Then later in high school we (meaning myself and friends) changed to tampax (the first brand available) which was a relief, and then in the 70’s we used environmentally-friendly reusable homemade tampons we would construct by attaching a string to a natural sea sponge. In my experience, neither the tampax or sponges ever fell out!


I believe this style is still available in Asia. The Bhikkhunī I mentioned was scouring the sanitary products aisle in Aus looking for something like this and I couldn’t understand what she was after. Your description makes sense. Thanks.


I am sorry that the material available in Chinese is unlikely to clarify any questions on this point. There are several terms also used for sanitary items or clothing, like 病衣,洗病衣, sme gab, and raja’sco.da. I am using my phone to navigate betwen sutta central and cbeta so my notes are a bit lame.

Msv: Thullananda goes out without a period cloth (病衣)and brahmans see the stain: Two offences, not using and not returning.

Sarv: nuns should return the period cloth (洗病衣).

Dharmaguptaka: not in patimokkha. Khandakas only, nuns may use furniture if they are able to sufficiently protect the furniture (?).

Mahasanghika: nuns should use the anicolaka and not wear it too deep or too loosely. Another rule about not washing rags in public places.

The Tibetan commentary discusses this and introduces a concept of guptibhaga, which my Victorian sensibilities preclude me from translating.

Anicolaka is ambiguous but I would have guessed “ani” (=thigh, body parts above knees) is a euphemism.

Ute Husken (2001) Pure or Clean in “Traditional South Asian Medicine” seemed to suggest that the avasatha civara had a symbolic value to pacify the anxieties of furniture owning hosts. If we look at things that can become impure by contact with menstruating women in say, Leviticus, beds and furniture are one of them. But what stands out from the khandaka account to me is actually that an avasatha civara was insufficient to protect the furniture. So this is not the real purpose of this cloth, which I understand to be about personal cleanliness.

In an Islamic hadith, Aisha is shown as wearing a sarong (izar) during her menses. In some hadith she is shown just cleaning the spots off her normal clothing (at the time she only had one robe), other times (better times?) she has a change of clothing for her period.

The general cultural expectations around menstruation are widespread in India and the Middle east and normally involve bathing one’s person and sometimes clothing after bleeding. I guess the practical reason for having a dedicated sarong for periods would be that it should be washed after “day 4” (if you are lucky lol), which would mean you could keep your normal lower robe as the clean one to get changed into after post-period bathing. But this seems to be a nicety rather than a strict necessity, hence the robe being shared. You would still need to use rags underneath it.

Despite Sanskrit terms like malavadvasas (wearing menstrual clothes) and udvasas (wearing fresh clothes after menstruation), there is not actually a lot of references directly on this point in Sanskrit. I think it is unlikely that nuns ever had a lived culture of shared menstrual rags.