Last week during Navratri, a lady who is a devout Hindu had put up a picture of her husband and daughter doing a Homa at home. While I do not know which Homa it was, I feel that it must be the Agnihotra ritual which many people do these days, to purify the atmosphere at home. Unfortunately there was a lot of backlash to the photo by people who felt that the posture and/or the dressing style of the people in the picture did not signify devotion. I was reading the comments with amazement since I am one of those who definitely feels that if rituals have to be done, they should be done by following all the rules, else it should not be done at all. But at the same time, it felt as if those commenting did not understand and/or follow the rules themselves, else they would never have written using such deprecatory tone to a lady. Secondly, in Kaliyug a lot of, in fact, more importance has been given to Bhakti because it is a given that only a miniscule percentage of the population will be able to perform rituals with all the rules followed to perfection.

Many of the comments were about the daughter not having tied up her hair. I wonder how many of those commenting even knew why the hair had to be tied up. So this blog is devoted to the “Kesha” or hair of a person. One of the foremost Sahasranamas (thousand names) is “Lalita Sahasranama” which has the thousand names of Lalita Tripura Sundari Mata. In it, Maa has many names which talk about Her hair, like –

Vyomkeshee is one of the names of Maa – Her hair is the entire sky and space

 Champakashokpunnagasaugandikalasatkacha – Her hair is adorned by Champaka, Ashoka, Punnaga, Saugandika flowers

Neelchikura – having shining black hair

Shrutishreemantsindurikrutpaadabjadhulika – She who is the one the dust from whose feet forms the vermillion (kumkum) marks at the parting line of the hair of the Shruti Devataas (Vedas personified as Goddesses)

Shadangadevatayukta – She who is accompanied by the deities of the six angaas (heart, head, hair, eyes, armour and weapons)

Vamakeshi – having beautiful hair

Barbaralaka – having wavy hair

Kapardini – wife of Shiva, the One with matted hair

All of the above refer to hair, a part of a physical body. Ever wondered why the hair has been given so much importance in our scriptures? Why has beautifying the hair also been given so much importance?

Well, it is said that Chandika resides on top, slightly to the back of our head. When She is left unfettered, She has much power but it gets dispersed without a purpose. That is why one is supposed to tie one’s hair. It symbolizes gathering all of one’s energies to use it for a purpose. As per Durga Saptashati, it was Yama DharmaRaya (the God of Death) who gifted Durga with lustrous, black hair.  Maa Parameshwari is always in full control of Her faculties and that is why Her hair is shown as neatly bound by Her crown. Since She has unlimited power, it is also presented as the Sky – vast and infinite. Her hair is wavy, not straight like the waves in the sea, never ending but remaining within a Maryaada (boundary). 

In Indian culture, women are supposed to leave their hair loose only in front of their husband, keeping it tied in a plait or held by a pin/clip or bound in a bun at all other times. When Sita was to get married, Her Mother presented Her with a comb to keep her hair in place. Sita is believed to have very long hair. When Ravana kidnapped Her, he held Her by Her loose hair and pulled Her to his Pushpaka Vimana. There is an instance in the Ramayana when Sita’s hair is referred to. It is when She gives Her Chudamani to Hanuman to present to Sri Rama as proof that Hanuman met Her. The Chudamani is an ornament used to pin up the hair in a bun. Married women wear this especially during their wedding. Sita’s Chudamani was given to Her by Her Mother-in-law. By giving the Chudamani (and not any other ornament) to Sri Rama, it is like She is signifying to SriRama that She has left Her hair loose & it will remain so till He rescues Her. Her loose hair is Her strength and Her dignity.

In Dance forms, one Rasa especially depicted in native dance forms (like Yakshagana or Kathakali) is the Rudra or anger. One of the prasangas depicted is Dushasana Vadha by Bheema and Draupadi or Panchali washing her open hair with the blood of Dushasana’s chest. Draupadi had sworn not to tie her hair after the Dyuth-krida or the game of dice where Dushasana had dragged her by the hair and brought her to the KuruSabha and tried to disrobe her. Bheema had taken the dreadful vow to kill all the sons of Dhritarashtra and to wash Draupadi’s hair with Dushasana’s blood then. Again Draupadi’s hair is symbolic of her strength and her pride, which had been trampled upon.

In the Gita Govinda of Jayadeva, a poetical treatise on Radha and Krishna, Jayadeva talks about how Sri Krishna combs Radhika’s hair, makes it into a braid and puts a Mala (string of flowers) on Her braid. This Sringar Rasa and Prema Rasa with the use of hair, is depicted well in all Bharatiya dance forms.

It is not just the women for whom the hair is important. Men too sport a Shikha, especially those who follow all rituals. The Sahasrar Chakra is believed to be under the Shikha or a tuft of hair and people from the Gaudiya Sampradaya believe that when it is time to leave this Sansaar, Sri Krishna will pull them out of this Maya by lifting the person by his shikha. The Shikha also symbolizes learning and its knot symbolizes the control over the senses. Leaving the Shikha loose is inauspicious.

When Chanakya was insulted in the Sabha by Danananda, he let loose his shikha and vowed to tie his shikha only when he had destroyed Danananda and his Adharma and had established a Dharmic ruler on the throne. He tied his shikha only after Chandragupta Maurya was installed on the throne of Magadha.

In modern times, Sikh Gurus gave a lot of importance to the hair. They insisted that their followers not just keep long, uncut hair (‘kesha’) but also keep it tidy and controlled with the help of the comb (‘kanga’) and Turban. While all the Sikh women do not sport a turban, all followers keep their hair long, uncut and tied up.

Sanatan Dharma treated the entire body worthy of worship. Disciplining oneself was the way to move from Tamas to Sattvikta. In today’s modern world we tend to follow every ritual half-heartedly, either because we do not understand its importance or because it does not suit us to follow it. While wanting a revival of the golden days of Sanatan Dharma, it is necessary that the men remember that the onus is on them just as much as it is on the women. Expecting women to do the Puja at home everyday and keep all the fasts, when the men do not want to do Sandhya-vandana even once a month is a very lop-sided way to hope for such a revival. And to criticize people before educating them on the correct process will only alienate them further. May Maa help us all remain within our Maryaada. Om Shanti, Shanti, Shantih:

Note: Image taken randomly from the Net.

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