Shastra and Dress Codes


Do our scriptures actually recommend any details or style of dress?


H.D. Goswami Profile Picture

The Gita does not tell us to dress in a certain way, although Krsna does tell us to meditate upon a “seat layered with cloth, antelope skin, and kuśa grass.” [Bg 6.11] Clearly devotees do not consider this injunction applicable in our present age. When we look at the Bhagavatam, which Lord Caitanya accepted as our most important shastra, we find, ironically that verses mandating specific dress styles are wholly impractical for this age. Here are the main examples:

SB 11.18.15
bibhṛyāc cen munir vāsaḥ
kaupīnācchādanaṁ param
tyaktaṁ na daṇḍa-pātrābhyām
anyat kiñcid anāpadi

Translation: If a sannyāsī would use clothes, then only a kaupina covering. Otherwise, if there is no emergency, he should not accept anything besides daṇḍa and waterpot.

CC Antya 12.37
Purport: In the tantras it is said:
vastreṇāvṛta-dehas tu yo naraḥ praṇamed dharim śvitrī bhavati mūḍhātmā sapta janmāni bhāvini

“A foolish soul who, with their body covered with clothes, bows to Hari, becomes a leper for seven future births.”

SB 7.12.4
bibhṛyād upavītaṁ ca
darbha-pāṇir yathoditam

Translation: Carrying pure kuśa grass in his hand, the brahmacārī should dress regularly with a belt of straw and with deerskin garments. He should wear matted hair, carry a rod and waterpot and be decorated with a sacred thread, as recommended in the śāstras.

SB 7.12.21
malāni jaṭilo dadhat
kamaṇḍalv-ajine daṇḍa-

Translation: The vānaprastha should wear matted locks of hair on his head and let his body hair, nails and moustache grow. He should not cleanse his body of dirt. He should keep a waterpot, deerskin and rod, wear the bark of a tree as a covering, and use garments colored like fire.

SB 7.13.2
bibhṛyād yady asau vāsaḥ
kaupīnācchādanaṁ param
tyaktaṁ na liṅgād daṇḍāder
anyat kiñcid anāpadi

Translation: A person in the renounced order of life may try to avoid even a dress to cover himself. If he wears anything at all, it should be only a loincloth, and when there is no necessity, a sannyāsī should not even accept a daṇḍa. A sannyāsī should avoid carrying anything but a daṇḍa and kamaṇḍalu.

SB 11.3.25
santoṣaṁ yena kenacit

Translation: …one should dress with scraps of cloth found in rejected places and be satisfied in any material situation.

SB 11.17.23
jaṭilo ’dhauta-dad-vāso
’rakta-pīṭhaḥ kuśān dadhat

Translation: The brahmacārī should regularly dress with a belt of straw and deerskin garments. He should wear matted hair, carry a rod and waterpot and be decorated with akṣa beads and a sacred thread. Carrying pure kuśa grass in his hand, he should never accept a luxurious or sensuous sitting place. He should not unnecessarily polish his teeth, nor should he bleach and iron his clothes.

Conclusion: We find from these inapplicable verses that dress codes in shastra are time-bound. They are not universal, not for all time, but rather meant for a particular time and place. And no shastra enjoins the use of a dhotikurtasari, or choli etc. Historical evidence, for example, shows that the “choli” came to North India from the South Indian Chola kingdom. Therefore, cholis would not have existed in North India during the time of Krishna and the events of the Mahabharata, despite all the Indian and ISKCON art showing North Indian ladies wearing cholis 5000 years ago.

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