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Tibet has a large number of Tibetan monks and most of its people are followers of Tibetan Buddhism. Tibetan monks or lamas play a major role in the lives of the Tibetan people, conducting religious ceremonies and taking care of the monasteries. Tibet has the largest number of monks in the world with almost 1/3 of the population being a monk. Tibetan monks are considered to be the ultimate followers of Tibetan Buddhism. Therefore, the costumes of Tibetan monks are also a significant part of Tibetan culture.
Clothing articles for Tibetan monks include a waistcoat and a red monk skirt. They wrap dark red kasaya, twice the body's length, obliquely about their shoulders. When monks pray, they wear a red cloak made of wool, which is called dagang in Tibetan. After the monks are promoted to Gexi (the highest academic degree of Tibetan Buddhism), their waistcoats are rimmed with satin borders, and they hang satin water bags about their waists, in which is a small bottle for mouth-rinsing. Monks who are responsible for blowing suona horn and monastic bugle may also wear these things as ornaments.
The costumes of Tibetan monks are usually made of crimson pulu. In daily life, a monk wears a shawl with the front and the back decorated with yellow cloth, and a long skirt, and drapes another long shawl that is approximately 2.5 times of the length of his height. When he attends a religious meeting he will wear a cloak and a special yellow cap. Sticking up high on the head, this neatly sewed cap resembles the shape of a rooster's comb. Virtually the costumes of monks varies among different sects. For example, some other monks wear long, steeple-crowned hat with its brim folded and its front open.
Robes are the most common costume of Tibetan monks. The basic robe consists of the following parts:
► The dhonka, a wrap shirt with cap sleeves. The dhonka usually is maroon or maroon and yellow with blue piping.
► The shemdap is a maroon skirt made with patched cloth and a varying number of pleats.
► The chögu is something like a sanghati, a wrap made in patches and worn on the upper body, although sometimes it is draped over one shoulder like a kashaya robe. The chögu is yellow and worn for certain ceremonies and teachings.
► The zhen is similar to the chögu, but maroon, and is for ordinary day-to-day wear.
► The namjar is larger than the chögu, with more patches, and it is yellow and often made of silk. It is for formal ceremonial occasions.
The way of the monks to wear the robe usually depends on their sect and areas. The most universal one is that which is worn for the alms-round when the robe is covering both the shoulders. The two top corners are held together and the edges rolled tightly together. The roll is then pushed over the left shoulder, down the back, under the armpit and is pressed down with the left arm. The roll is parted in front through which protrudes the right arm.
Within the monastery or residence and when having an audience with a more senior monk, a simpler style is adoped (as a gesture of respect and to facilliate work). The right side of the robe is pushed under the armpit and over the robe on the left leaving the right shoulder bare.
Hats are also important costume for Tibetan monks and distinctive feature of different schools of Tibetan Buddhism, for example, Red Hats for Nyingmapa and Yellow Hats for Gelugpa. Monks of different sects can be easily distinguished by their coronary caps. For example, senior monks of the Ningma Sect wear lotus caps shaped like thrones. It was said that such caps were once worn by Padmasambhava, a senior Indian monk who had come to preach his religion in Tibet. Monks of the Sakya Sect wear heart-shaped caps called the "sakya cap." The golden-rimmed red caps, which were also said to be granted by an emperor of the Yuan Dynasty, but were later changed to yellow caps by Tsong-kha-pa.
Although monks' attire is determined by rigid rules, nuns' attire is determined mostly by their financial situation. Their waistcoats may be rimmed with satin, but their skirts and kasaya are usually made of tweed. Sometimes they patch a piece of satin on their shoes to represent their different status. Along with the fast development of society, monk's and nun's clothes have been undergoing changes. Now it is not unusual to see Buddhist monks and nuns wear sport shoes and watches.
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