Saturday, January 24, 2009

Ancient Undies

Early last year I embarked on a project to write a social history of northern India in the 5th/3rd centuries BCE based on the information in the Pali Tipitaka. Knowing more about the society the Buddha lived in can help us better understand why the Dhamma took the form it did. It can help us distinguish between the culturally specific teachings and the sananta Dhamma. I work on this project nearly every day and some of my material ends up on this blog. Of late I have been looking at clothes (No, not dirty laundry!). It is proving to be a bit of a challenge because it is often difficult to tell the differences between the different types of cloaks, hats, dhotis, belts and waist bands. Other early Indian literature may help throw light on some of these differences but unfortunately I don’t have access to most of it. However, I'm struggling through. The Hindi sari is almost certainly related to the Pali sataka, the choli, the bodice that Indian women wear, is defiantly a developed form of the Pali cola, a sort of early brassiere. These are some of the things I have so far discovered about ancient Buddhist underwear.
The Vinaya says that when nuns are menstruating they are allowed to wear either a samvelliya or a katisutta, apparently to hold a pad in place (Vin.II,271). Samvelli means something like 'that wrapped around' and katisutta comes from kata = hip + sutta = string, and was probably something like what we call a G-string (The string I understand. The G?). It seems likely that katisutta was the literary form for kopina, an undergarment worn by lay men and women. Yesterday's post mentioned the Buddha's comment about the tart lifting her kopina for the sake of a miserable coin (Vin.II,111). The Jataka describes a cook wearing a kopina squatting down washing the dishes (Ja.V,306). One of the disadvantages of getting drunk, the Buddha said, is that a man may expose his kopina (D.III,183). I think it's also one of the disadvantages of being David Beckham and signing a contract with Calvin Kline. Now in Hindi the kaupina is the G-string sort of thing worn by some yogis, by men doing messy work and in Indian wrestling (kusthi). In wrestling it is called langota, probably related to the Pali langati, 'to bind' or 'to tie'. This garment consists of a triangular piece of cloth with strings on each corner (hence the sutta in katisutta) two being tied around the waist and one pulled between the legs. The great Ramana Maharishi always wore one of these. Sometimes instead of strings there are ribbons which are wrapped around the waist, pulled between the legs and tucked in at the back and I suspect the Pali for this variation of the garment is samvelliya. According to the Vinaya, monks are not allowed to wear a samvelliya (Vin.II,137). This is interesting because today Hindu yogis and wrestlers wear G-strings in the belief that confining the genitals and pressing them against the body it minimize sexual desire.
I recall that Sankaracariya composed a five verse poem in praise of the G-string. I think it's called Kaupina Pancakam.


Anandajoti said...

Kaupina Pancakam by Adi Shankaracharya:

The dispassionate one wearing a piece of loin cloth — who is roaming in the thoughts of Vedanta (Upanishad), who is satisfied by a meagre portion of begged-food, who is meditating in his inner-self without grief — is indeed blessed.||1||

The dispassionate one wearing a piece of loin cloth — who is sitting at the roots of a tree, who is eating unmeasured (meagre) food with his two hands, and who is disregarding wealth like a patched-cloth — is indeed blessed.||2||

The dispassionate one wearing a piece of loin cloth — who is elating and satisfying in his own thoughts, who is keeping quiet and curbing his sensual desires, and who is roaming day and night in the thoughts of Brahman — is indeed blessed.||3||

The dispassionate one wearing a piece of loin cloth — who is witnessing his body changes, who is seeing self as the aatman, and who is not remembering either the end, or the middle, or the outside one — is indeed blessed.||4||

The dispassionate one wearing a piece of loin cloth — who is reciting the Brahma-syllable, who is is existing with the thought ‘I am Brahman’, and who is wandering in directions for alms — is indeed blessed.||5||

© Stutimandal 2006, Mar 24.

Shravasti Dhammika said...

To my readers - Should you need to find something, anything, any thing at all, call upon my good friend Anandajoti - he'll find it for you. He also happens to be a Vedantan masquerading as a Buddhist monk.
Thanks for that Anandajoti

Dr Prabhat Tandon said...

some very interesting comparisons !!