Vows of Individual Liberation in Red

One of the things that struck me the most, when I stayed in Dharamsala, was the abundance of color all around that somehow seemed to be in perfect harmony with the projected minimalism of life.

In reality, the color of a monk’s robe is not just plain red but varies in many shades of red, ranging from maroon to crimson to deep wine.

The color “red” had become the traditional monk robe color in Tibet mainly because it was the most common and cheapest dye at one point of time. Also, red is considered a ”poor” color in Tibet so the idea of wearing red symbolizes deflecting attention from oneself and focusing on compassion & kindness towards other beings – one of the main principles of Buddhism.The Buddhist robe is said to be more colorful than other sects. Interestingly it is also one of the oldest styles of fashion that is still in existence despite 2500 years having passed by since this type of attire came to be.

The simplicity of wearing such robes also symbolizes the vow taken to lead simple lives. A monk’s robe is like his uniform in a way – a symbol of his non-status that he no longer partakes in a material world. It is interesting to see that a symbol of such self imposed insignificance has become so significant with time.

Tibetan monks wear a shirt and a skirt instead of a one-piece robe. A shawl-type robe may be worn as an outer layer.
The basic robe consists of these:
The dhonka, a wrap shirt with cap sleeves. The dhonka usually is maroon or maroon and yellow with blue piping.
The shemdap, a maroon skirt made with patched cloth and a varying number of pleats.
The chogu is something like a sanghati(the outer robe), a wrap made in patches and worn on the upper body, although sometimes it is draped over one shoulder like a kashaya robe(the upper robe). The chögu is yellow and worn for certain ceremonies and teachings.
The zhen is similar to the chogu, but maroon, and is for ordinary day-to-day wear.

There are a number of stories explaining the blue piping. The most common one is that it commemorates a connection to China.

The shaved heads symbolize the renunciation of worldly things. It helps the monks overcome vanity on the path to a simple enlightened life.

They talk about global warming, space shuttles, and Bollywood. Many have nothing and want nothing except their homeland back. Most of them renounced everything they had to embrace the simplicity of  a life dedicated to a religion that preaches selflessness. Everyone else including local Indians & many travelers around them complete their large circle of family, love, friendship, and support.

The controversial 17th Karamapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, one of Tibetan Buddhism’s most revered leaders and a probable successor to the Dalai Lama.

Conversation classes are hugely popular in Mcleod Ganj. A typical description of a conversation class is English-speaking travelers converse with monks/tibetans  in English in order to improve their spoken English. These conversation classes are held every day for an hour or two, 5 days a week. Teaching and learning at these classes work both ways. Volunteering travelers talk about their city life & day-to-day experiences, and learn about the tibetan way of life, their struggles, their dangerous journey over the Himalayas, the sacrifices they made, and their rehabilitation in a foreign land.

Poster for a *Conversation Class* held at one of the NGOs I was volunteering at.

The monastic life feels like a big alternative spiritual get-together.


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14 Responses to “Vows of Individual Liberation in Red”

  1. Smrithi Rao Says:

    oooooooooooooooooooooooooo by far this is one of your best
    :))) So many ways of wearing the robe..and are you serious about red being poor ??? *Gasps* . Just went through all the pictures ,will read the text now …

    Loving it

  2. Smrithi Rao Says:

    P.S I’m hoping to see pictures of the music fest soonish 🙂

  3. Manou Says:

    Thank you! Pictures of music fest…Ladakh confluence? Sadly, it got cancelled so I never went!

  4. Zoya Says:

    Amazing! I feel like going to Dharamsala and seeing it all for myself! Lovely photographs and a very informative piece. Your updates never disappoint. Looking forward to the next one already!

  5. spardha Says:

    Beautiful indeed… this post has such a calming effect on me right now.. i’m sick, in office, loaded with work… so happy to c u back in action!!
    I wanna go back to dharamsala!

  6. Eternal*Voyageur @ Venusian*Glow Says:

    Wow. I love the fresh way you present Indian street wear… The way you mix talk of fashion with culture and everything else. by the way I love Dharmshala, it´s one of my favourite Indian cities, thanks so much for refreshing the memories !
    I´m already looking forward to your next post…

  7. Rain Girl Says:

    Beautiful photos. And more interesting? The write-up… you made efforts and it shows…

    I have been to Dharamshala n Mcleodganj once, but didn’t have my camera.. its such a beautiful, peaceful place … 🙂

  8. L1L2 Says:

    great post! good cultural lesson and moving from the robes, the faces… all those faces tell of different stories. it’s beautiful!

  9. Arushi Khosla Says:

    Loves it.

  10. Jyotika Purwar Says:

    This is so fabulous. I love the red. Ive always wanted to go to Dharamshala and Mcleodganj and am totally inspired by your posts. The umbrella post was fab too!

  11. aarti Says:

    beautiful pictures!!!

  12. Mercedes Censich Says:

    This is an interesting post.

  13. Carol Says:

    High quality info here! Keep up the great work. I love the feelings being expressed.

  14. Qisser Says:

    I like…

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