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. I was especially intrigued by the red robed monks that inhabited this small town. Simple people that knew not right from wrong only because they believed in the existence of right alone.
Though, to know right, one has to know wrong! Right? Maybe not.
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.
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.
They speak English. 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.
A young monk(on right), in Adidas sneakers, possibly still in the early ambiguous phase of whether to give all his worldly possessions away or keep.
This photo on the left is my favorite of all. It seems like he just got beamed in from outer space.
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 conversing with monks, about random or not so random topics in English, in order to improve their(monks’) 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 in turn, learn about the monks’ way of living, their struggles, their dangerous journey over the Himalayas, the sacrifices they’d made, and their rehabilitation in a foreign land.
This is a poster I designed for the Conversation Classes held at one of the NGOs I was volunteering at. After printing about 300 copies we realized there was no time mentioned on the poster. Shit happens! Bad karma?
One could compare the monastic life to a big alternative spiritual get-together where everyone has the same hair style and is dressed like a monk.