What are the original clothes of Buddhist nuns & sankacchika? (Video)

The correct robes for nuns, especially the sankacchika, has been an area of some confusion, which unfortunately has probably not been helped much by the only academic paper on the topic, which primarily used Mahasanghika textual sources.

A lot of people in the Buddhist community seem to have no idea what ancient nuns really wore.

For the benefit of the general public, I would therefore like to share this excellent video approximating the ancient Indian manner of wearing bhikkhuni robes, especially the sankacchika (shawl-top), according to Chinese Buddhism. I expect the old school Thai cultural understanding is also the same, but the Pali textual sources are not as comprehensive at the Chinese.

There is enough literature around this in Chinese from multiple sources to know this is accurate for up to around the 7th cent CE (I have put a pic of a more original way in the comments).

So I have linked the above video from Yidesi temple in Taiwan showing the Nanshan commentarial way of wearing sankacchika, etc. Yidesi has 100+ nuns and is a famous nuns’ college in Taiwan.

N.B. this is Nanshan tradition, so there is also an additional right shoulder cover (2x sankacchika). This is a feature of this commentarial school. The double sankacchika style might also be a good “first time sankacchika” for anyone looking to try wearing one who hasn’t before, as there is about the same coverage as a T shirt.

The venerable is using a sewn one for the left shoulder, but Yijing says the sewn one is also not 100% Indian style. It also makes her look a bit uneven here.

This 2x sankacchika style shows up in art from the post CE period, but the original way has only the LHS sankacchika. LHS only unsewn sankacchika is not an easy style to wear at all & really needs a belt or tie to stop it from falling everywhere. Otherwise there is a risk of exposure. We can frequently see a girdle with the sankacchika in Central Asian art.

The venerable is wearing the Chinese long sleeve top underneath to demonstrate, however, this kind of top would not be worn in ancient India due to being unorthodox/foreign/“lay”.

Xuanzang’s description of a sankacchika:
-covers left hand shoulder
-wraps armpits
-open on left and right sides
-length below the waist

Example of sankacchika IRL (note 90cm x145cm measurement).

Diagram of sankacchika & more info (Chinese).

https://kknews.cc/culture/mg4mx6.html

Sculpture of sankacchika (example only, I have no idea how old this one is).

I hope that answers some of the confusion. Tagging Ven.s @vimalanyani and @pasanna

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This is awesome! Thanks for sharing.

:heart:

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Actually, I found a better pic:

201201262127571990

The middle one is the sankacchika, the oversize angsa.

I partly care about this so much because it is super hot in Sydney. I tried doing almsround in a long sleeve top once because my sankacchika was in the wash and I nearly got heat stroke…anyway my problem is solved now.

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Thanks you Venerable! For some reason this makes me very happy to know.
It’s been weeks and weeks at around 40ºC here in Perth so I have experimented with different options in my kuti. I had imagined that it would wrap around the chest and then up over the shoulder. If you google ‘how to wear a scarf as a top’ you’ll understand what I mean.
I’ve sewn a few options too. None of which fit in with our Korwat, but a useful if going out on hot days double shouldered and for in the kuti.

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ah this is so fascinating! are there any photos of this done with the theravada style robes? :o

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This is all really cool. Where’s the picture from?

I guess the first two images are of the lower robe and the bathing cloth? Do they explain the difference between the two? It looks like one is worn with a belt, and the other is just folded and wrapped somehow.

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The image is from something like 如何正确穿着佛袈裟 中衣 僧祇支 (豆瓣音乐人) but I don’t think it’s the original source. The pics were probably meant as a study of robes in Central Asian art, hence the colours. I’m not sure why there are two lower robes, the top of the lower robe is not normally visible in art, so maybe two options cover the possibilities (either observed or hypothetical?)

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I think it depends what you mean by Theravada robes. It’s not unheard of for senior teachers in Mahayana vinaya schools to actually just wear SE Asian style Theravada robes (i.e. as the “orthdox” style). Another less common Chinese vinaya style is Chinese style robe without jacket (Master Hua sometimes wore this). On the other hand, these days Chinese monastic jackets are popular with Theravada monks and nuns in the West. So who is to say who owns which style?

In terms of being Sthaviravada schools, on a textual level, the Dharmaguptaka and Pali bhikkhuni robe styles are basically interchangeable. The only difference is the textual measurement of the bathing cloth. When I look at the clothing at a Mahayana bhikkhuni monastery like Nanlin in Taiwan, it would be easy to mistake it as Theravada from a distance. But most Chinese nuns don’t dress like that.

The main robe difference between East and SE Asia is the location and style of the neck ties, which has also been disputed in Theravada history & is a minor point. I often wish my robe had a shoulder pin…

What is shown in the Yidesi video is actually the “orthodox” version of Chinese robes, which is already nearly identical to Theravada/to what is available off the shelf for nuns/mae chee in Thailand. The only difference is the wide angsa. You can mostly get narrow ones off the shelf from Thailand. For all I know, they may have purchased the video items from Thailand specially.

But sure, if someone had the energy and time, they could do a similar video without the right hand shoulder cloth & Chinese style uttarasanga.

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Dear all,
thank you for this interesting thread.

Here is a picture and link of a vest / sankacchita: https://passportandbaggage.com/buddhist-robes/

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ah yes, i meant the southeast asian style robes. i had no idea that the way the east asian styles are worn are still aligned with the known styles from before! i’m even more fascinated & hope to meet a bhikkhu or bhikkhuni wearing these older styles!

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Yes, this is also called “sankacchika”, AKA the “one shoulder thing” or the “mae chee underwear”.

Impossible to sew, uncomfortable to wear, and still not really covering what you might hope it would cover. Yijing observed these outside of India in the 7th century. He didn’t disapprove too badly (by contrast, Yijing looked down on shirts) but he noted that these were not what was worn in India.

Actual Indians had a religious distate for structured garments. The Indian sankacchika is a flat piece of cloth. People from other places often cannot comprehend this, hence the need to elucidate the original sankacchika.

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Is only one sankacchika allowed?

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Yes! The photos posted here are the reconstruction of the observed robes seen in Ming Dynasty depictions of the Buddha according to the link!

If I’m understanding the information in the post correctly, it seems like the leftmost photo in that trio is the under(?)garment mentioned earlier. The middle is the robes when done in the style seen in Korean paintings of the Buddha contemporary to Ming Dynasty depictions, while the rightmost is the “over the shoulder shawl style” seen in Ming Dynasty depictions of Buddhas. If my reading is correct, then that means there’s two cloths (the undergarment then the robe above it) & not three cloths–it may be that the rightmost photo used a different style robe to reflect the Ming Dynasty & Dunhuang-cave styles…

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Yeah, our vinaya tradition is that we have one sankacchika which is determined. We were allowed two long sleeve blouses (2nd one as spare/misc cloth) at my training monastery, in addition to the “one shoulder thing”. Not everyone kept the 2nd blouse. We don’t keep spare robes in general, it is only for the blouse that my training monastery allowed a spare, making it an odd exception. Since I left, I have only kept one sankacchika.

I think it’s normal for SL nuns in general to have about 4-5 blouses. They need regular washing in hot weather.

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For @simhamukha

Mahayana bhikkhunis from Nanlin monastery, Taiwan, wearing Dharmaguptaka robes with jacket. Spot the difference…Theravada nuns often don’t leave the left side exposed by the upper robe like that.

Source: Buddhist Principles on How to Improve Destiny and Overcome an Unfortunate Life | by Avalokitesvara Shrine | Medium

post 4-7

Can you tell the difference? Our upper robe has slightly more cloth in the long side which makes the left hand shoulder bulkier. Theirs is more like Nalanda university style.

7-1-1達理老法師與廣公

http://www.ghtemple48.com/webc/html/monk/yearning_show.aspx?num=25&kind=8&page=

Taiwanese Mahayana vinaya teachers Ven. Dali and Ven. Guanghua (???). Not actually Theravada monks. Also: no Theravada monk would leave the left shoulder just hanging like that (Chinese style).

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We’re a lot more lax with our extra requisite cloth. Most people here determine one jacket/blouse as sankacchika and keep a few to rotate through the wash. My personal practice is that I have summer and winter jacket (winter one is thick and synthetic) and a scruffy work jacket. The summer jacket is determined Kathina until Wesak then I switch over to the winter one as my determined sankacchika and the summer one (and the work one are requisite cloth). The things I am playing around with as ‘hot weather kuti-wear’ / one-shouldered things are just requisite cloth.

It’s all a bit messy :slight_smile:

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Wait…were you asking why I did something stupid and wore a long sleeve shirt in the heat?

It was just my old habit (literally). :sweat_smile:

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No, no. Just curious if only one was allowed.

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Ayya @Suvira you mentioned somewhere above about a regular angsa not being big enough, and also something about or alluding to a level of modesty. I’m wondering what in ancient Indian times was counted as modest and immodest for women? My understanding is that it was just coverage from belly button to knees. Maybe a cloth across the front but side-ways exposure of the chest was acceptable. In your pictures the cloth comes down to around knee height, do you feel this was necessary? I’m interested in the intersection of what we might consider ‘modest/imodest’ in Australia, other Asian Buddhist cultures and ancient Indian and how this can intersect. By the term modest I mean with the context of the reflection on the robe.

I was playing around with this style in my kuti and my main problem I have an angsa style Is the exposure from the left side. With the standard angsa toggle I am pretty covered with my large angsa on the right side. I then played around with cloth the size of my lower robe and discovered that heavy cloth is totally not practical but also that if I wanted to wear my upper robe over the top rolled single-shoulder anything taller than an angsa doesn’t work. I came up with a modified solution using a bit of cloth the width of my lower robe and about 40cm tall which would go around the torso completely (starting with a bit of a tail from the right hip) to cover the chest then back up over the front to cover the left shoulder. With both ends tucked into my lower robe at the back this allowed me to move around and do cleaning etc without fear of exposure. I took some photos but I don’t think I’ll post them publicly as this dress is against our Kor Wat. So I made a little sketch to illustrate what I mean.

I’ve also made my own ‘one shouldered thing’ which comes down to the hips. I didn’t find it too difficult to make. I followed these instructions. I modified it a little to make it longer and fasten with buttons on the side (I was going to make ties, but I hate making them). I added a flap to ensure there was extra coverage on the side as I’d seen this on the Buddhacatuparisa bhikkhunis sankacchika.
Here is a photo of mine.

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Oh my gosh! Thank you for this, I googled for a bit trying to find photos like this. I find that the way they drape too is similar to Tibetan monastics–I used to be a chöpön (ritual assistant) in a Tibetan place for a while & the way we had to do our robes were similar: letting the left shoulder hang down.

I’m always so surprised to see how similar the robes are & wish that all Buddhist monastics regardless of sect wore it similarly haha. But ah well.

This is very lovely & it’s given me some joy today. Wow!

EDIT: this reminds me too of a bhikkhuni monastery in Cambodia, who were Taiwanese nuns but they wore their robes “Theravada style” according to the news source I read, & their photos looked much like the ones you posted.

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