Kesa are worn by Japanese Buddhist priests on ceremonial occasions. Although sumptuous, the patchwork refers to the tattered and mended robes of a monk and is intended to reflect the poverty of the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni. Most kesa are made from fine robes donated to temples as an act of merit. The mantles are sewn using specific stitches and sometimes incorporate consecrated relics.
This kesa is constructed from four brocades including a 17th-century Chinese silk of dragons and clouds, possibly taken from a formal robe. The number of columns on kesa mantles ranges from five to twenty-five and may indicate the rank of the wearer, with more columns suggesting higher status. The squares in each corner of this seven-column kesa represent the cardinal points, or the heavenly kings of the four directions.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2011
From: Asian gallery extended display label