Q&A with Srila Hridayananda das Goswami on Wearing Dhotis and Saris

Question: In an interview with a reporter in 1975*, in New York, Srila Prabhupada says that devotees use dhotis and saris to be recognized as Hare Krishnas, comparing that to the use of uniforms by policeman. At the same time, in this conversation he says dress is not important. Please comment.

Answer by Srila Hridayananda das Goswami:

1. Prabhupada in this interview twice says that dress is not important.

2. He also states that people can become Krishna conscious without traditional Indian dress.

3. He analogizes our dress to a police uniform. In fact, Prabhupada appreciated intelligent feedback on material issues, and in that spirit, I would have suggested to Prabhupada that in two ways, the police analogy does not apply to us:

A) The police are already recognized as authorities. People simply need to know who the police are. People in the West do not already accept us as spiritual authorities and thus do not merely need to know who we are.

B) A police uniform is carefully tailored to fit in with the existing culture and to inspire respect for the office. Our “uniform” does not fit in with existing culture and for most people does not inspire submission to devotees as spiritual leaders. As the reporter below said, most people find our uniform “strange” and “odd”.

With best wishes,

Hridayananda das Goswami



Reporter: Swamiji, your movement has received a great deal of attention for, at least one reason, because many of your followers dress in what for the West is an odd fashion and relate to the world in what for the West is an odd fashion. Can you respond to that? Why have you asked your followers to dress in this fashion and to play drums on the streets?

Prabhupada: This is our preaching method, some way or other to draw their attention. (laughter)

Devotees: Jaya! Haribol!

Reporter: I’m sure that you’re aware that to many people in the West, in America, in New York City specifically, that your disciples seem strange because of the way they act on the streets. What about that?

Prabhupada: Yes, they must be strange because they are spiritual. You are all material. (laughter) So, for the material persons, we are surely strange people.

Reporter: Is this manifestation the only way to be spiritual, dressing in this fashion?

Prabhupada: No, no, you cannot compete with us. Because we don’t have any illicit sex, we don’t have meat-eating, we have no intoxication, we have no gambling. There’s so many no’s which you are unable to perform.

Reporter: Swami, that wasn’t my question. My question was, is this manifestation, dressing in this fashion, playing drums and dancing in the streets, the only way to be spiritual?

Prabhupada: No, we have got about sixty books. If you want to learn this movement through science and philosophy, we have got our books. You have not seen our books? (laughter)

Reporter: Swami, that isn’t the thrust of my question. Yes, I have. The thrust of my question very simply is this: Can’t people be spiritual without dressing in this fashion and dancing in the street?

Prabhupada: Oh, yes, oh, yes, you can become spiritual in your this dress. Simply you have to learn what it is from the books. The dress… dress is not very important thing, but still, in the material field, this girl is dressed in a different way, you are dressed in a different way.

Reporter: The way we dress lets us move in all circles.

Prabhupada;: No, the thing is, dress is not very important.

Reporter: But you have your disciples dress in this way…

Prabhupada: But just to draw a particular… Just like the policeman, he is differently dressed. One can understand that he is policeman. Similarly, we are also differently dressed so that people may understand we are Hare Krishna people.

Devotees: Jaya! Haribol!


(New York, March 1975).



Filed under HDG Uvaca

4 responses to “Q&A with Srila Hridayananda das Goswami on Wearing Dhotis and Saris

  1. Sankarshan Das Adhikari

    Prabhupada’s profound analogy is reconfirmed by the wonderful event described in this link: http://www.dandavats.com/?p=10620

  2. Nityananda Das

    Many, many times I received a positive feedback (people were even impressed) for wearing traditional dhoti/chadar dress in the western countries. As Maharaja says, “Our “uniform” does not fit in with existing culture and for most people does not inspire submission to devotees as spiritual leaders…”, then I would like to ask what would Maharaja suggest as THE dress that would inspire submission to devotees as spiritual leaders. Buddhists wear their dress (very similar to ours) and receive huge respect as spiritualists, especially in the West. On the other hand, Jehova Witnesses wear secular dress as a rule, but I don’t see how it helps them to be viewed as spiritual leaders.

  3. For every positive story associated with the use of traditional indian attire, there are at least ten stories when this uniform has over-differentiated devotees and shifted the focus from Krishna consciousness to dress consciousness – projecting the impression that Krishna consciousness is sectarian Hindu movement, and in effect holding back the progress of Prabhupada’s mission.

    It’s not the dress that will inspire submission – but the purity of character and the strength of the philosophy. How can we preach with force that we are not these bodies, but place such great emphasis on the kind of a clothes that goes over the body? You are not the dhoti nor the sari, Prabhu. Yet, sadly, wearing a dhoti or sari has become synonymous with being a devotee in ISKCON. The uniform cheapens what it means to be a devotee.

    People who have completely dedicated their lives to their spiritual path and reside at a place like a temple are expected to have a uniform. The rest of the devotees who do not live at a temple or a sacred space are expected to comply with the social norms. You don’t see Buddhists who live outside of the temple wearing robes – so the comparison between the Hare Krishnas and Buddhists is not an accurate one.

    The purpose of wearing any particular clothing must be brought back to the discussion. The overarching principle is that if something is used in Krishna’s service, then it’s devotional, and if something is not serving Krishna, then it’s non-devotional. Therefor, if wearing pants aids in spreading Krishna consciousness, then the pants are devotional attire. The vision needs to be refocused from the cloth itself to its effect. If we see that the dhotis and saris do not serve Prabhupada’s mission, then why are some devotees so adamant on sticking with them anyway?

  4. Yuga Avatar

    According to kala …time , desa ..place and circumstance we should adapt and preach to our fullest inspired potential.His grace hrydananda das go swami is an acharya and guru.So he is preaching according to his extensive experience knowing the environment and how locals will see and respond.Reading this word for word quote,Srila Prabhupada certainly agrees,at the very least his mood delivers us the appreciation that
    Acharyadevas siksa is not outside our is icon parameters of preaching…..

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