The bhikkhus have three robes while the bhikkhunis have five robes. What are they?
The five robes prescribed for the bhikkhunis are as follows:
- Sanghati, an extra robe often seen folded and placed on one shoulder. This robe has two main functions. One is to be spread and used as seat or bedding. Another purpose is to use it as an extra cover in winter.
- Uttarasanga is the normal robe. It may be worn to cover both shoulders, or cover only one shoulder.
- Antarasavaka is a lower robe to wrap around the lower part of the body and tie at the waist with a cotton belt specially made for monks and nuns. In Thai this is called “Rad pakot.” This is worn with folded pleats in front, neatly tugged under the belt. The lower edge must be even.
- Udakasatika is a bath robe required for both bhikkhus and bhikkhunis. This robe is similar in shape to no.3 but without the edge. For bhikkhunis, while taking a bath, this is worn higher to cover from her breasts down to her knees.
Formerly the monks bathed naked. Visakha, the lay follower, suggested to the Buddha that it was not fitting for the monks to bathe nakedly. Since then it became a monastic requirement added to the first three robes.
- Samkacchika, a vest, is required only for the bhikkhunis. Formerly they wore exactly the same kind of robes as the monks but when they went for alms, the wind blew the robes against their bodies and their breasts were seen prominently under the robes. The local people made fun of them, so the Buddha prescribed the vest for them. It is to be worn tight to flatten their breasts.
Another requirement is the ‘monthly robe.’ which, though not included in the above five robes, is necessary for the bhikkhunis. This is used during the menstruation period. In the Buddha’s time material was not easily available, this ‘monthly robes’ belonged to the Sangha. Any bhikkhuni may use them when needed. Then must wash them clean and return them for the common use of the bhikkhuni Sangha.
Another piece of clothing not allowable for a bhikkhuni is ‘Sanghani.’ This is a decorated piece worn around the hips as commonly practised by the laywomen.