Baring the shoulder (Was: New Message)

Allen Thrasher athr at loc.gov
Wed Oct 2 13:54:30 EDT 1996


One might more widely say that in general it is an ancient India custom to
uncover the upper body in front of superiors, including deities.  Thus in
many temples men must uncover the entire upper body.  In South India
(Kerala, I believe) earlier in this century this became a matter of
considerable turmoil when Christian Untouchable women were urged by the
clergy to wear bodices but the brahmins objected to their uppitiness in
keeping covered before their superiors.


Allen W. Thrasher

The opinions expressed do not represent those of my employer.



On Wed, 2 Oct 1996, Vidyasankar Sundaresan wrote:

> 
> > "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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