What did Ascetics wear throughout the Ramayana period?

Rupa Bhaty
5 min readJun 8, 2022


I would say “Chiira-mahaatmya” — A vivid imagery from Ayodhya kanda, 37th & 38th sarga

Rama puts on bark — Vasistha blames Kaikeyi — says Sita was not ordained to wear bark

तथा मम सतां श्रेष्ठ किं ध्वजिन्या जगत्पते।

सर्वाण्येवानुजानामि चीराण्येवाऽनयन्तु मे।।2.37.4।।

O best among the virtuous O lord of the world, I do not have any use for this army. I am giving away everything (to Bharata). Bring the bark only.

अथ चीराणि कैकेयी स्वयमाहृत्य राघवम्।

उवाच परिधत्स्वेति जनौघे निरपत्रपा।।2.37.6।।

Thereupon in the assembly of people, without any sense of shame Kaikeyi herself brought the bark robes and said to the son of the Raghus (Rama), Wear it.

चीरे पुरुषव्याघ्रः कैकेय्या प्रतिगृह्य ते।

सूक्ष्मवस्त्रमवक्षिप्य मुनिवस्त्राण्यवस्त ह।।2.37.7।।

The tiger among men (Rama) received the bark robes from Kaikeyi and putting off the fine apparel wore the robes of an ascetic.

लक्ष्मणश्चापि तत्रैव विहाय वसने शुभे।

तापसाच्छादने चैव जग्राह पितुरग्रतः।।2.37.8।।

Lakshmana also removed his auspicious raiment in front (presence) of his father and accepted (put on) the robes of an ascetic.

अथाऽत्मपरिधानार्थं सीता कौशेयवासिनी

समीक्ष्य चीरं सन्त्रस्ता पृषती वागुरामिव।।2.37.9।।

Then Sita in silk(?) clothes glanced at the bark robes meant for her to wear and was frightened like a doe seeing a (fowler’s) snare.

सा व्यपत्रपमाणेव प्रगृह्य च सुदुर्मनाः।

कैकेयी कुशचीरे ते जानकी शुभलक्षणा।।2.37.10।।

अश्रुसम्पूर्ण नेत्रा च धर्मज्ञा धर्मदर्शिनी।

गन्धर्वराजप्रतिमं भर्तारमिदमब्रवीत्।।2.37.11।।

Sita of auspicious nature who knew her duties and understood righteousness, took the garments made of kusa grass from Kaikeyi. With a sense of abashment her eyes suffused with tears, she said to her husband who was the very image of the king of gandharvas.

कथं नु चीरं बध्नन्ति मुनयो वनवासिनः।

इति ह्यकुशला सीता सा मुमोह मुहुर्मुहुः।।2.37.12।।

Sita, unacquainted with wearing bark robes, asked Rama, perplexed ‘How do the sages who live in the forest wear bark garment?’.

कथं नु चीरं बध्नन्ति मुनयो वनवासिनः।

इति ह्यकुशला सीता सा मुमोह मुहुर्मुहुः।।2.37.12।।

Rama, foremost among protectors of righteousness, came forward quickly and fastened the bark himself over her silk (?) garment.

रामं प्रेक्ष्य तु सीताया बध्नन्तं चीरमुत्तमम्।

अन्तःपुरगता नार्यो मुमुचुर्वारि नेत्रजम्।।2.37.15।।

Beholding Rama fastening the bark garment on Sita, the women of the inner apartment shed tears from their eyes.

तासामेवंविधा वाच शृण्वन् दशरथात्मजः।

बबन्धैव तदा चीरं सीतया तुल्यशीलया।।2.37.20।।

While Rama was listening to such words uttered by them, he got the bark robes fastened round Sita who was of similar nature.

चीरे गृहीते तु तया समीक्ष्य नृपतेर्गुरुः।

निवार्य सीतां कैकेयीं वसिष्ठो वाक्यमब्रवीत्।।2.37.21।।

When Sita wore the bark garments, Vasistha, the king’s preceptor who was watching this restrained her (Sita) and said to Kaikeyi:

भरतश्च सशत्रुघ्नश्चीरवासा वनेचरः।

वने वसन्तं काकुत्स्थ मनुवत्स्यति पूर्वजम्।।2.37.27।।

Wandering in the forest and wearing bark, Satrughna and Bharata will live in the company of their elder brother (Rama) in the jungle.

अथोत्तमान्याभरणानि देवि

देहि स्नुषायै व्यपनीय चीरम्

चीरमस्याः प्रविधीयतेति

न्यवारयत्तद्वसनं वसिष्टः।।2.37.34।।

O Kaikeyi remove those bark robes and bestow on your daughterinlaw precious ornaments. She was not ordained to wear the bark. Vaisishta, saying so, prevented Sita from wearing that garment.

एकस्य रामस्य वने निवास

स्त्वया वृतःकेकयराजपुत्री।

विभूषितेयं प्रतिकर्मनित्या

वसत्वरण्ये सह राघवेण।।2.37.35।।

O Kaikeyi, you asked that Rama only should dwell in the forest (wearing bark robes). Therefore let Sita, adorn her body daily, while she lives in the forest with Rama.

तस्यां चीरं वसानायां नाथवत्यामनाथवत्।

प्रचुक्रोश जनस्सर्वो धिक्त्वां दशरथं त्विति।।2.38.1।।

Beholding Sita who was wearing a bark garment, like one without a support, though having a husband, all the people cried bitterly exclaiming O Dasaratha, fie on you.

इयं हि कस्यापकरोति किञ्चि

त्तपस्विनी राजवरस्य कन्या।

या चीरमासाद्य जनस्य मध्ये

स्थिता विसंज्ञाश्रमणीव काचित्।।2.38.5।।

Sita, daughter of Janaka, the greatest among kings, stands amidst people wearing bark garment like an ascetic with her senses switched off. To whom and what harm has she done?

चीराण्यपास्याज्जनकस्य कन्या

नेयं प्रतिज्ञा मम दत्तपूर्वा।

यथासुखं गच्छतु राजपुत्री

वनं समग्रा सह सर्वरत्नैः।।2.38.6।।

Let the daughter of Janaka take off her bark garments. This is not the promise I had made to you earlier. Let the princess happily go to the forest adorned with all jewels and with all other necessities.

Sita goes in Bark clothes following Raama. On this Dasharatha wishes hell for Kaikeyi.

तत्त्वेतत्समतिक्रम्य निरयं गन्तुमिच्छसि।

मैथिलीमपि या हि त्वमीक्षसे चीरवासिनीम्।।2.38.12।।

Having exceeded all that, you want to behold Sita in bark garment and thereby, wish for hell. ( Dasharatha to Kaikeyi).

I could have just typed the shloka and sarga numbers, but I copied and wrote the entire description for the reader’s enlightenment.

Ascetics, Rishis, and Munis all wore Bark Robes, according to the above description. Before weaving, this was one of the most ancient processes. This was also popular throughout the Ramayana period. And in some regions of Africa, this is still customary (see the pic below). In India we find this in practice in some Orrisan tribes.

Why Saffron-Orange colour used by the ascetics later?

After the Ramayana time (12000–13000 BCE), we can discover that Indians switched to Karpasa-cotton. Note that the Cotton is absent in Ramayana. The cotton fragment found in the copperbead has been dated to around 6000 BCE. Cloth dyeing appears to have become available, resulting in orange robes and the replacement of Bark clothing with saffron-colored cotton garments. The Mahabharata mentions the Kings’ white and red turbans. Colors appear to have been utilised for classifications and hierarchies as well.

Banana bark clothing-Humanity’s oldest skill of clothing

Read hear.

There is yet another description of कुशचीरे- Garment made of Kusha grass.

One can read about the (mino) straw cape made of rice straw which has water repellant properties here.

Mino- Source : Wikipedia
Natural clothing making — gyékény és fű ruha


We will discuss about the name Kausheya and Kushaa in some another blog. Right now the takeaway of this blog is — Ascetics wore Birch or Bark attire in the Ramayana times. Kausheya (of the Kushaa) appears to be a precurser nomenclature for the fine silk.



Rupa Bhaty

Architect and Adjunct Assistant Professor at School of Indic studies, Institute of Advanced Sciences, MA, USA