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If you hear a saint or a Saadhu or Sanyaasee talking about Yog and spiritual matters, and then you see the same caught in a scandal his words would ring hollow. The costume he wore, in fact added weight to the words he spoke before. And it is that very costume that gave more publicity and meaning to the first meeting than he deserves.
We need our teachers to wear costumes. We will not accept a Guru wearing jeans and T-shirt or a business suit. It may be orange or ochre or white. Guu must have long hair and beard. They must give themselves fancy titles and insist they are hermits; never mind if they travel only in foreign cars and in business class on airplanes and eat only the choicest fruits served in the most expensive china. So, part of being a spiritual teacher is also about performance. One has to look according to the part he is playing and act the part beautifully. The students demand it and the teacher succumbs to it.
In imagery, clothes and colors are used as symbols. In Vaidik times, the hermit was called Digambar, the sky-clad one, meaning naked. Clothes indicated being part of society. Exceptions were made. Some hermits wore clothes that nature provided them - bark, leaves or animal hide. Use of woven fabrics by hermits was forbidden. Woven fabrics were for householders. As hermits interacted with villagers, some hermits, so as not to discomfort villagers, started wearing Kaupeen or loin cloth. Otherwise, all hermits, even women, were naked. The idea was to express a thought - that they possessed nothing, not even a thing to cover their body.
The story from the Jain chronicles informs us that Mahaaveer, when he renounced the world, did have a small piece of cloth around his waist. One day this cloth got stuck on a bramble bush. He wondered should he release the cloth from the clutch of the thorn. If he did so, it would mean he was attached to the cloth. So he did not, and from that day went about naked. But mere nakedness does not indicate renunciation. Otherwise everyone who patronize nude beaches would claim to be a hermit.
Following Buddhist times, when monks interacted more and more with people, hermits adopted clothes, usually un-dyed cloth or usually white. Color was associated with materialism. Overtime, one color Bhagavaa became increasingly associated with ascetics. The color is known as Bhagavaa which is a light saffron that has over time become bright saffron. And why this Bhagavaa color was chosen, because if you see that color, nobody likes this color to wear, except in fashion. It does not seem comely to eyes. if somebody decides to wear such a color for his rest of his life, it is a great sacrifice of the favorite colors. It is one of the many worldly things to leave.
Ideally, thought should express itself in form. But today, through form we are expressing thought. Thus, when we see a man dressed in saffron robes, we assume he is a holy man. We are becoming a culture where 'packaging matters'. And so we end up with performers pandering to our spiritual needs.
Created by Sushma Gupta on 8/9/09
Updated on 04/09/12