Article: Monastic clothing

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Śvetāmbara ascetics

Barefoot and dressed in three simple white garments, Śvetāmbara monks are surrounded by their monastic equipment – upakaraṇa – which consists of brooms, staffs and begging bowls. Every day the monks beg alms from the lay community.

Śvetāmbara monks and equipment
Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir

Śvetāmbara ascetics of both sexes wear clothing, which is closely defined by scriptural rules. Monks’ clothes are much simpler than nuns’ robes. Nuns' garments are loose-fitting and almost entirely cover them.

Since time immemorial all Jain mendicants have walked barefoot. In recent years, however, a minority of Śvetāmbara mendicants has started using cotton sandals or socks. Usually, only aged or suffering monks or nuns wear them but younger mendicants sometimes use them too, especially in winter in northern India, when it gets very cold.

Male mendicants

Śvetāmbara monks are allowed the following three garments:

  • two of cotton, worn underneath
  • one of wool, worn on the top (Deo 260: 258).

But there are different rules according to the status of the mendicant, the age of texts (see Deo 1960) and the practice of various monastic orders. The passage from the Ācārānga-sūtra mentioned above refers to a context which could be that of the fifth century BCE. Today’s monastic clothes are not identical to the prescriptions in such a text. Stitched or unstitched, the robes are folded and wrapped around the body. The mendicants wear the complete outfit whenever they go out of their lodgings. When inside their lodgings, they may take off the outer garment.

Female mendicants

Two Śvetāmbara nuns in white monastic robes – saṃghaḍī – in their lodgings – upāśraya. They are barefoot and hold their monastic brooms – rajoharaṇa or oghā – under their left arms. Jain nuns of all sects wear white robes that cover them from head to toe

Two Śvetāmbara nuns
Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir

Śvetāmbara scriptures have a variety of technical terms for nuns’ garments, which are much more complicated than monks’ clothes. Nuns have to be covered more than monks because:

  • they need more protection against potential dangers of the wandering life
  • their physical attractions should be covered, to reduce the temptation to break celibacy.

The holy writings go into great detail about nuns' clothing because of this. As an example, the table summarises material provided by Deo (1960: 480-–82), which indicates the clothing used in the first centuries of the Common Era.

Śvetāmbara nuns' clothing in the first century




to cover private parts, being broad in the middle and thin at the ends


fastened over the waist, covering the uggahaṇantaga


to cover the two previous garments and the entire waist


from the waist down to the knees


from the waist to halfway down the thighs


from the waist down to the ankles


to cover the breasts


tied on the left shoulder, covering the back and breasts


tied on the right shoulder, to cover the two previous pieces of clothing

saṃghaḍī – ‘robes’

four robes were used


for protection against a strong breeze. It could be used for 'giving an appearance of dwarf[ish]ness to beautiful nuns by placing it at their backs and tying it with the garments' (Deo 1960: 482) thereby making them unattractive

Today the clothing of Śvetāmbara nuns is made of cotton and comprises three different pieces (Shântâ 1997), for which the older word saṃghaḍī can be used as a generic term. According to Shântâ, every nun has three skirts, three blouses and four veils. Most of the time the nuns cover their heads with their veils.

Śvetāmbara nuns' clothing nowadays



sāḍā or colapaṭṭo

long, full skirt, to cover from waist to feet

kaṃcavo or kaṃcuka

long blouse with sleeves or a long sleeveless blouse

pacheḍī or cādar

light veil to cover the head, which falls on the shoulders and can reach the waist


woollen shawl used in the winter, which is always white or light cream. In some monastic orders, it has a red line along the hem.

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