Article: Monastic clothing

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Digambara ascetics

Although the Digambara sect is known for the nudity of its monks, not all mendicants in the sect live naked. Men who are initiated into the Digambara mendicancy pass through novitiate stages. They may not become fully-fledged monks, who are the ones who go nude.

Digambara nuns are not technically mendicants, since they cannot renounce clothing and thus cannot fully renounce the world. As spiritually advanced lay women, they wear white robes. However, they follow the same rules of mendicant lifestyle as the male ascetics.

Male mendicants

Digambara monks live naked to show detachment from worldly concerns, which is much honoured. A kṣullaka or junior novice wears three white garments while an ailaka wears a loincloth. When an ailaka is ready to become a monk he casts off his loincloth

Digambara monks and novices
Image by Takeo Kimiya © Takeo Kimiya

The three stages of male monastic hierarchy among Digambaras are reflected in whether clothes are worn or not. The stages depend on the man’s level of spiritual advancement.

Digambaras connect these stages with the general scheme of the pratimās, recognised by both Digambaras and Śvetāmbaras. This scheme defines a progression of 11 degrees, by which a lay man slowly renounces household life (Jaini 1991: 38–39; Wiley 2004: 245). As the table makes clear, nudity thus represents the culmination of a graduated path.

Digambara monastic clothing stages

Mendicant stage


Pratimā scale

novice – kṣullaka

Three pieces of clothing:

  • an undergarment
  • two outer garments

But Carrithers (1989: 222) states that ‘he wears only two garments: a loincloth and an upper cloth. He may not use a blanket’.

10th – stage of leaving the household, or becoming a monk

junior – ailaka

One garment:

  • loincloth

11th – stage of begging alms like a monk

monk – muni


Post-pratimā stage – has climbed the full scale

Female mendicants

A Digambara female ascetic can never go naked. Her clothing depends on her position in the ascetic community, which itself depends on the degree of her spiritual advancement.

A female novice – kṣullikā – keeps two pieces of clothing. She wears a white sari and covers the top part of her body with a long shawl. She removes this shawl while eating.

A Digambara nun –āryikā – wears only one piece of clothing, a white sari.

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