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Vidyasankar Sundaresan vidya at cco.caltech.edu
Tue Oct 1 21:31:14 EDT 1996


> "He (the questioner) bared his right shoulder and
> clasped his hands ...."
>  
> What is the significance of "baring the right
> shoulder"?  It is not, to my knowledge, a practice
> found generally in India today, nor even in
> ethnographic literature.  

Among south Indian Brahmins, the upper garment may be worn covering both
shoulders, or in the manner of the upavIta, leaving the right shoulder
bare. When approaching a guru or an elder, the upper garment is completely
removed and tied around the waist, as a mark of respect. When sitting and
talking with a monk, the upper garment, if not tied around the waist, is
worn in the upavIta fashion, leaving the right shoulder bare. Covering
both shoulders (or equivalently, wearing a shirt) is considered a sign of
disrespect. This is expected behavior among gr.hasthas, when visiting a
temple, when receiving an honored guest, and in general when approaching
any monk. These customs are still followed in the south. 

There is possibly some connection to the practice mentioned in the
Buddhist sutras, if it is a general cultural phenomenon. This presumes
certain enduring attitudes about an upper garment, even if it has changed
its form over the ages, e.g. from a robe to a shirt. 

S. Vidyasankar





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