Sanghati making as kantha sewing: continued from how did the early monastics sew their robes?

We have been having discussion about the manner of making up the sanghati, or monastic patchwork outer robe, which I would like to continue here under a new heading.

I would like to explore the idea that the concept of this garment is continuous with kantha patchwork in India today- a myth which is promulgated by makers of kantha patchwork themselves.

A number of historical religious figures in India have been described as wearing a kantha (i.e. the patchwork garment made of kantha which is folded on the shoulder). E.g. Chaitanya. My guess is that this is the same as our sanghati.

Basically everywhere in India has some version of this by different names.

This is kantha: you may have seen it before in Indian style blankets.

Today’s theory:
The “ghatI” part of word saNghATI is actually Sanskrit kanthA, rags.
The garment which is called saNghATI in Buddhism is called kanthA in general in Sanskrit, and is a garment for outcastes and ascetics.
The equivalence of these terms is evidenced by Chinese term 伽黎 (=gadi or gadli?) for 僧伽黎 (samgadi/samgadli).

In many Indian languages today, this word is pronounced as kata, but is spelled as kanthA due to Sanskritisation. There is also a parallel feature of Prakrit nasalisation which might also be responsible for the presence of the intrusive “n” sound.
It is Sinhalese kaDa.

In the commentaries (someone help me find the reference please), men are given ordination in the clothing they had previously after removing the padding: this style of patchwork was used in society in general but with additional cotton inserts.

“The most important forms of kantha were made by women for use in their own homes such as bed quilts or coverings, coverlets, seating mats, pillow covers and all-purpose wrappers. A traditional full-sized kantha was roughly six feet long (183cm) and five feet wide (152cm) and was used by the poor as a protective layer for sleeping in the winter (Zaman, 2012).” Kantha - Asian Textile Studies

A folk etymology links the word “kantha” to the word “khetta” (ksetra), which may be the origin of the story that the Buddha had wished for monastic robes to be made up like the “fields of Magadha”. In Eastern dialects, kantha is pronounced as “ketha” or “kentha” today. I am personally dubious that this request was actually made by the Buddha, as it seems a little contrived. But this may be the link between fields and patchwork.


To produce a kantha quilt, a base fabric was made from layers of old cloth, traditionally between five and seven, and this was embroidered using the yarns recovered from the borders of old saris, lungis and dhotis. More recently, modern kanthas are often made with new materials and those made with much coarser cotton can suffice with only two layers. Once the main embroidery decoration is completed, the layers making up the kantha are quilted.

The process began by preparing the separate layers so that they all had the same dimensions. If some cloths were too small they were stitched together, sometimes almost invisibly, to obtain the required width. Several women would work together to spread the layers of cloth on the ground, making sure there were no folds or creases. Traditional kanthas tend to be somewhat uneven in shape because they were not stretched in a frame. The layers were held flat on the ground, either weighted on each corner or fastened together with needles or thorns, while the edges were folded in and stitched. Then two or three rows of large stitches were made down the length of the layered cloths to hold them together and to provide a frame for the later placement of motifs. At this stage the layers could be folded and put away so that they could be worked on at a later date.

@Snowbird @Pasanna @Khemarato.bhikkhu


At that time Venerable Mahākassapa’s rag robes were heavy.
Tena kho pana samayena āyasmato mahākassapassa paṁsukūlakato garuko hoti.Bhagavato etamatthaṁ ārocesuṁ.

“I allow you to mend roughly with thread.”
“Anujānāmi, bhikkhave, suttalūkhaṁ kātun”ti.

Suttalūkhaṁ kātuṁ. Sp.3.359: Suttalūkhaṁ kātunti sutteneva aggaḷaṁ kātunti attho, “Suttalūkhaṁ kātuṁ means to patch just using thread.”

P.S. Ajahn @Brahmali, in the Civarakkhandhaka, I think suttalūkhaṁ means, “a beam or securing of thread”. lūkha =Prakrit ukkhal , °khul m., ukkhalī , °khulī f. ‘small door.’ (=aggaḷa ). Cf Newari lukha, a “gate” or “door” (=aggaḷa). See Turner: A Comparative Dictionary of Indo-Aryan Languages

It doesn’t have anything to do with mending “roughly.” Bhantes @sujato and @Dhammanando, your thoughts please? :pray: :pray: :pray:

Also: mukhapuñchanacoḷaka in the same khandhaka is more accurately a facecloth, as Indians didn’t (and don’t) use handkerchiefs in the Western sense of a small piece of cloth used for blowing the nose.

I am very glad to be using the new translation online, eventually the specialised sewing terminology will gradually become clearer, I am sure!

*post edited because this came to me at 3am, together with other “insights”, however, I think it’s better to keep my early morning thoughts to myself unless I can articulate them in a way other people might understand.


Firstly, thank you for sharing this. I had been wondering about the etymology of the word Sanghati :smiley: and just generally enjoy a good thread on requisites (pun unintended).

This made me think of the Sekhasutta which I was reading the other night.

And then the Buddha spread out his outer robe folded in four and laid down in the lion’s posture—on the right side, placing one foot on top of the other—mindful and aware, and focused on the time of getting up.

I was hoping this thread was going to solve the mystery of the kathina frame. Not yet :thinking: Though I came up with various dodgy theories and design ideas last night.

1 Like

I was looking for something else and found this essay from Ajahn Brahmali
I haven’t read it yet but figure it’s relevant to this thread

The essay is mostly about something else, whether saṅghāṭi is used for all robes. Of term saṅghāṭi, Ajahn Brahmali states, “there is no obvious reason why “patchwork” should be used.”

Which I think is true, if you read the treatment of term saṅghāṭi in English dictionaries. Which is actually a very sensible thing to do, and I know many people who like to use dictionaries (i.e. as opposed to being up at 3am in the morning summoning the long dead soul of Hemachandra).

*I am also aware that looking at a dictionary is also an option, I just choose not to.

However, from the Chinese, it seems that terms saṅghāṭi僧伽黎 and ghāṭi*伽黎 were considered interchangeable. Which opens up a much wider sense of continuity with Indian terms like gudhari, gadli, godri, godadhi, goidhi, and gandholi today, and also with terms kantha, etc. These do have a sense of “patchwork”.

Words never really “go anywhere”, it’s quite nice to think that people are still actually using these terms in the community.

Also: kathina frame. It is not one thing, it is a number of possible things? If you google DIY quilting frame, I’m sure there is something that would work?

Hi Venerable, thanks for this. I am always happy to see comments on my translation from you!

OK, so let’s get into this. The word lūkha is a fairly common word in the Pali Canon. In the Vinaya Piṭaka it is found 10 times in the compound lūkhacīvara, where the meaning must be on the side of rough, that is, “a rough robe”. Another standard usage is where lūkha qualifies a person who is sickly or thin. I these cases I render it as “haggard”, which again is related to the idea of “rough”. Then we have the compound lūkhapasannā, which must mean “confidence in roughness” (describing people’s preference for austerity in monastics), and lūkha used to describe simple food as contrasted with food that is paṇīta, delicious. Again, “rough” is close to the mark. We also find the expression acchariyaṃ yāva lūkhāyaṃ gharaṇī, “It’s amazing how lūkha this housewife is”, where the context would suggest it means “stingy”, but perhaps it refers to something like “low” or “wretched”. My overall impression is that lūkha has a general meaning of “low quality” or “bad state”.

Apart from these fairly straightforward usages of lūkha, we find two cases where the meaning is more obscure, that is, satthalūkha and suttalūkha, the latter of which you are referring on. According to the Majjhimā Ṭīkā: tattha tattha satthena chinditattā satthalūkhāni, “Satthalūkhāni means cut here and there with a knife.” Similar explanations are found in other commentaries. Again, “rough” is close to the mark.

This leaves suttalūkha. With such a preponderance of passages on the side of “rough”, we would need some fairly substantial evidence to translate differently here. The Majjhima Aṭṭhakathā in fact ties suttalūkha directly to lūkhacīvara: Lūkhacīvaradharoti ettha pana lūkhanti satthalūkhaṃ suttalūkhaṃ rajanalūkhanti tīhi kāraṇehi lūkhaṃ veditabbaṃ, “Lūkhacīvara: but here lūkha is to be understood through three conditions: satthalūkha, suttalūkha, and rajanalūkha”, which then must mean something like “roughly cut, roughly sewn, and roughly dyed”.

My conclusion is that lūkha in the sense of “beam” or “securing” seems to be unknown to the Vinaya Piṭaka. I do not think it is good practice in translation to use an otherwise unknown meaning, unless it is absolutely necessary. In the current context “rough mending” seems to be ballpark correct. I would need some pretty good evidence to be convinced otherwise. (For instance, are the references in Turner’s “A Comparative Dictionary of Indo-Aryan Languages” from literature of the same time period? Are there many such references? etc.)

Anyway, thank you so much for the comment. I may not always agree with you, but I certainly do appreciate your interest!



I had originally thought that Sp.3.359: Suttalūkhaṁ kātunti sutteneva aggaḷaṁ kātunti attho was providing a direct gloss on suttalūkhaṁ. I was thinking, why is the commentator wanting to call a suttalūkha an aggaḷa made of thread? But having now read the Sp passage in more detail, it’s possible that the term aggaḷa appears here with reference to the commentarial sentence immediately prior, as the robe had been heavy due to too many patches.

It’s still a funny word, and I don’t know if it even exists in the Chinese, the passage at MA 207 just has 粗 (coarse). I haven’t been able to find the equivalent khandaka passage at all in Chinese. But at any rate, I think I’ve just misread the commentary.

Thank you for your comments, I’m happy to be corrected!

1 Like

Ahahaha Ajahn @Brahmali … I think I did actually work it out, the meaning came to me.

This is rough because I have a very restrictive app blocker on my phone (I can only access D&D if it loads before the blocker does).

From this and the Sp read together, I infer that a lūkha(noun) is a [rough or deficient] patch e.g. on clothing. This is distinct from but related to lūkha adjective. Lūkha(noun) is referring to a Worn Place on clothing, not to a descriptive quality or manner of action.

A satthalūkha is a tattered (cut) patch.

A suttalūkha is a worn patch which is held together by threads. We don’t have an English word for this, but it’s what you would see sometimes on the threadbare patches on distressed jeans.

A rajanalūkha is a blotch.

These are “natural” lūkhāni.

For some reason, these seem to be in the same conceptual category as “artificial” lūkhāni. If you make one yourself, the English terms are as follows:

satthalūkha is a cut piece.

suttalūkha is a darn across a hole or adding a darned patch.

Nobody ever deliberately makes dye blotches though! Maybe accidental ones.

So what is permitted when robes are heavy should really just be called darning or adding a darned patch in English, following the Sp.

“Sewing roughly” means something else: it means you don’t care a lot about the size or evenness of the stitches. It doesn’t communicate anything meaningful, it’s better to stitch your robes nicely, not roughly.

In the other place in the khandakas where the term sattalūkha occurs in the context of making up a cut robe, it should probably be corrected to satthalūkha (made of cut pieces) rather than suttalūkha. This may also be reflected in the Chinese Dharmaguptaka khandaka as 刀割截成沙门衣, “cut with a knife into pieces so as to become an ascetic’s robe.”

So yeah. The real winner here is the Sp, for being 100% correct.

I am just here to advocate on behalf of the words. :innocent:


My rendering is “mend roughly with thread”, which I still think is reasonably close to the commentarial explanation. Sp says “to make a patch with thread only” (suttalūkhaṃ kātunti sutteneva aggaḷaṃ kātunti attho ), which is different from “a worn patch which is held together by threads”. And lūkha only has the meaning of rough so far as I can see, whether as an adjective or noun. Sorry, I am still not convinced by your reasoning here.

As for your comment on the mukhapuñchanacoḷa, I agree that “handkerchief” is not ideal. The commentaries seem to say it mostly used for wiping the mouth, especially after eating, a bit like a napkin perhaps. Yet rendering it as napkin does not seem right. I mean, a napkin does not seem like a suitable requisite for a monastic! LOL! So I have settled on “facecloth” for now. Thanks for this comment. Every little improvement is super useful!


Is there already a different word for “washcloth”? :pray:

British vs. American? Are you saying “facecloth” is not used in the US?


Oh! Surry! Indeed, my Americanness is showing. :grimacing: Carry on!


No, it’s good! I mean, it’s supposed to be Americanised. One of our editorial policies have been to lean toward American usage, simply because it is more prevalent in the global English speaking community. The problem in this case is that we are dealing specifically with a cloth to wash the face. Is washcloth still the appropriate word?


Yes, we call it a washcloth (even when it’s just for the face) :blush::pray:


I’m not sure why a napkin isn’t suitable for a monastic. I mean, a piece of cloth for wiping the face after eating is the textbook definition of a napkin, no? Or does it seem like a piece of fine-dining equipment?

In my (American) childhood, a washcloth was usually used in the shower for washing the whole body. Of course you could use it just to wash your face, but you could also use it to just wash your feet.

While I also prefer not making up words when good ones already exist, I’d say that “face wiping cloth” is not strange or unintelligible. I don’t know about the tradition in Thailand, but in Sri Lank monks will often keep something more substantial than just a handkerchief with them to continuously wipe sweat off their face. I usually associate a handkerchief with nose blowing, which this particular cloth is not used for.


It had been a “darn” which I had meant (not a “worn patch which is held together by threads”), as an artificial one.

I have reflected on this further. A robe which is fine in the Indian thought world is white, uncut, and unsewn. The opposite is a robe which is coarse (a lūkhaṃ): the robe which is dyed, cut, and sewn. I think that’s the conceptual element which is a little confusing here- the fact that the simple act of cutting and sewing is what makes the roughness. The Chinese translation 刀割截 for satthalūkha is cognisant of this, and does not directly translate element lūkhaṃ.

It’s a bit obscure, but words like paṇītaṃ do, in fact, cross into noun territory- it happens in term payataṁ paṇītaṁ in Snp2.2, where paṇītaṁ means “fine food”=“delicacies”. The noun meaning of paṇītaṁ isn’t given in many dictionaries, but it definitely exists in both Pali and Sanskrit.

The same thing should happen for lūkhaṃ, too- I’m thinking it should be read as a “coarse robe” or " coarse robe patch" in its implied nominal sense. Given adequate time, I guess I might be able to drag this up in an extended corpus trawl. I’m not sure what the precise difference is between a “coarse robe” and a “coarse [robe] piece”, but it might come to me later.

Edit: I did eventually find the nominal sense in a corpus trawl:

Source: Sutta: The Pali Text Society’s Pali-English Dictionary
Cīvaralūkha refers to: (adj.) one who is poorly dressed Pug.53;

Where lūkha becomes a type of poorly attired person.

Or, alternatively, lūkhaṃ might have more of a sense of sullied. i.e. a thread-sullied [robe], a knife-sullied [robe], a dye-sullied [robe]. This would be in opposition to an unsullied robe- the sense is that the thread, knife or dye has despoiled the cloth. But unfortunately it sounds a bit odd as we would normally just say sewn, cut and dyed rather than something like thread-besmeared…which is still probably idiomatically just “darned”.

Anyway, thanks for your input Ajahn @Brahmali & for all your work on the vinaya texts.

1 Like