Upper body clothing ...

mrabe at artic.edu mrabe at artic.edu
Wed Oct 2 11:28:05 UTC 1996

Peter et al.,

Though not a South Indian brahmin, I too wish to comment on your Buddhist
sutra passage. Whether or not this mode of leaving the right shoulder bare
finds mention in Buddhist vinaya texts I cannot say, but that would be a
good direction to look. Nevertheless, throughout the history of Buddhist
sculpture this mode of dress is extremely common--most frequently, I would
hazard to generalize, for seated images of the buddha.  Perhaps this
feature is associated with teaching, or if the questioner too is dressed
this way, with learned conversation--i.e., with the right free of the robe
for declamatory gestures.

And there is a Gandharan link to Hellenistic practice.  Several of the
stucco sculptures of Hadda, Afghanistan, show the monastic robe over both
shoulders, but with the right hand rather awkwardly extending out from the
top to make an abhaya mudra.  Given their provenance it is reasonable to
that these images, together with the Corinthain order pilasters that frame
them, "betray" an indebtedness to the West.  In the Vatican collection, for
example, there is a famous standing potrait of Sophocles dressed this way,
his right hand raised through the upper hem of his toga, presumbaly for
rhetorical gesticulation.

However, this Gandharan/Hellenistic variation is quite distinct really,from
the pratice of wrapping the upavita upper cloth over just the left
shoulder. For this initial mode of your query, the earliest surviving
precedent comes from Mohenjo-daro, on the portrait of the bearded man with
down-cast eyes (as if practicing yoga), presently in the National Museum,
New Delhi.

With thanks for the sutra reference,

Michael Rabe

>>On Wed, 2 Oct 1996, Peter J. Claus wrote:
>> A colleague asked me about the significance of the
>> repeated phrase in a particular Buddhist sutra.  It
>> begins each of the discourses of the Buddha, after he
>> arrived at a meeting place and is greeted.  The phrase
>> is translated:
>> "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.

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