Devotional Clothing as Uniforms


Question

How should we understand the term “devotional clothes” and what would you say to the suggestion that dhoti and sari are the “uniform” of devotees and hence help people identify us?

Answer

H.D. Goswami Profile Picture
  1. A study of the Vedabase clearly shows that Srila Prabhupada himself did not use the terms “karmi clothes” and “devotional clothes.” Rather his disciples have established these terms as basic codes of ISKCON.
  2. Prabhupada liked dhoti and sari as a temporal strategy, i.e. at a certain point in history, to draw public attention. It worked in the 60s and early 70s, when western youth liked things that were strange or exotic. Now the world is very different and this strategy no longer works to our advantage.
  3. There are serious problems with the famous argument that just as people recognize police by their uniform, people recognize us as spiritual leaders by our uniform of dhoti and sari. Here are some of the problems with that argument:
    a. People ALREADY accept the police as an authority. They just need to know WHO is a policeperson. In contrast, very few people in the West ALREADY accept us as spiritual authorities.
    b. A police uniform is carefully designed to inspire, within the cultural norms of a particular society, confidence in and respect for police authority. However our “uniform” is not always understood in that way. In fact, sometimes it has the opposite effect.
  4. Srila Prabhupada perfectly addresses this issue in the following purport: “For paramahamsas, or sannyasis in the Vaishnava order, preaching is the first duty. To preach, such sannyasis may accept the symbols of sannyasa, such as the danda and kamandalu, or sometimes they may not. Generally the Vaishnava sannyasis, being paramahamsas, are automatically called babajis, and they do not carry a kamandalu or danda. Such a sannyasi is free to accept or reject the marks of sannyasa. His only thought is “Where is there an opportunity to spread Krsna consciousness?” Sometimes the Krsna consciousness movement sends its representative sannyasis to foreign countries where the danda and kamandalu are not very much appreciated. We send our preachers in ordinary dress to introduce our books and philosophy. Our only concern is to attract people to Krsna consciousness. We may do this in the dress of sannyasis or in the regular dress of gentlemen. Our only concern is to spread interest in Krsna consciousness.”- SB 7.13.10

The fact that culturally appropriate uniforms may bring certain sociological advantages does not prove that ISKCON’s current “uniform” is appropriate or practical in the West. Rather, I believe that our strange appearance has erected a high, impassable wall that separates the fallen souls from the devotees. If modern society is a headless body, ISKCON today is surely a disembodied head.

Conclusion: Krishna West is an ISKCON project faithful to Prabhupada’s spiritual, philosophical, and organizational principles. Krishna West does not seek to change any existing ISKCON project, nor to criticize any of the many sincere, advanced ISKCON devotees who disagree with us. We simply seek to expand ISKCON’s western mission at a time of need, by offering an additional program.