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kesa (kesa 袈裟)

A rectangular ceremonial vestment that is worn draped over the left shoulder by Buddhist monks in East Asia and is emblematic of the robes originally worn by Buddhist monks in India. All kesas are pieced robes (kassetsue 割截衣), made with five, seven, nine, or more panels of cloth that are sewn together. The panels themselves comprise both long and short pieces of cloth. The word kesa originated as a Chinese transliteration of the Sanskrit kāṣāya or "ochre," an earthy pigment containing ferric oxide that varies from light yellow to brown or red. Buddhist monks in India were originally supposed to wear robes made from discarded cloth that was ritually polluted or literally filthy. The procedure was to cut out usable pieces of cloth, wash them, sew them together, and dye the resulting garment with ochre. From that uniform color, Buddhist patchwork robes in general came to be called kāṣāya. As the monastic institution evolved, new cloth for robes came to be provided by lay donors, but the practice of cutting the cloth into small pieces and sewing those together to make robes was retained. Buddhist monks in India were allowed three types of kāṣāya: (1) an antarvāsa or "under robe," (2) an uttarāsangha or "upper robe," and (3) a saghāi or "full dress robe." In the colder climates of Central Asia and China, however, the Indian mode of dress was often insufficient, so monks from those regions wore their native clothing and draped the Indian upper robe or full dress robe on top of that. In China, the word kāṣāya was transliterated as jiasha 袈裟, which is pronounced kesa in Japanese. Worn over a Chinese-style full-length sleeved robe that was tied at the waist with a belt or sash, the jiasha (kesa) lost its function as a practical piece of clothing to cover and protect the body but retained its meaning as an emblem of membership in the monastic order. As vestments used only when formally dressed for solemn Buddhist observances, there was a tendency for jiasha to evolve into finery, crafted from pieces of colorful brocaded silk. Soto monks today receive three kesas upon their ordination. →"robes," "three robes," "long robe," "rakusu."