Thursday, 31 October 2019

A Word About Monastic Robes

While monks' requisites shops sell factory-manufactured robes with synthetic dyes, it is good to know that many monastics today still do things the old-fashioned way... and more so that these are foreigners who have come to the Golden Land for practice.

The German novice, Ashin Dhammosadha, shares this photo of applying natural dye to his monastic robes at Pa Auk forest monastery, Dawei, southern Myanmar. U Dhammosadha and his monastic friends boil rosewood tree bark for many hours in order to get the natural dye pigment needed. The following day, they cook the resulting pots of dye until most of the liquid becomes evaporated and only one small pot remains. Finally, they soak their robes in this, applying pressure by rolling a plywood boar to ensure the dye soaks thoroughly throughout the cloth. Finally, the robe is hung and dried, the process repeated at least two more times. U Dhammosadha shares that Thai monks he knows follow a similar process, however the dye they use is much less concentrated, resulting in the lighter colored robes that Thai monks can be seen wearing. (In Issan, however, some monks use jackfruit heartwood)

The German novice adds that it becomes evident which side of the robe faces the sun while drying, and even a fashionable stripe (where the robe was hanging) can be set as well, so clips may be a more suitable method.

How to wash after dyeing? Only with water and salt, not with any soap, for that would remove the dye, meaning that sweat becomes increasingly difficult to ever remove. Many Burmese monks who follow this tradition never actually wash their robes, but only pour hot water over it, just enough to soak it, and then roll it a few times with pressure up and down. Others, however, use a mordant like Alun, or "sourstone', several months after putting the dye on.

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