Usually, getting a haircut and a shave is seen as a special treat, a chance to pamper yourself after a strenuous week at work, or in preparation for an upcoming event. However, within the Hindu religion, ceremonial haircuts/shaves known as MUNDANS are majorly symbolic, occurring during certain life events. The first is a child’s first haircut, the second is during worship and pilgrimages to special temples, and the third being the haircut/shave during the mourning of a loved one.
A child’s first haircut, which is known as a CHUDAKARANA, ideally happens when a child is 1 or 3 years old. It is favourable to complete this ritual at Lord Venkateswara’s Temple in Tirupati, which is renowned for its procession of Barbers that stay there, waiting to shave hair. There are a number of rituals to be completed before the haircut takes place, like special prayers to the gods, blessings to the barber and even a fire ceremony (this would be amazing to see!). The child’s hair is then fully shaved off, or a SHIKHA is maintained by some Hindus, whereby a small patch is left untouched. This creates a lock of hair which is left to protect the brain, as well as the area where the soul is believed to leave the body after death.
Once the tonsure is complete , the child’s head is rubbed with sandalwood and turmeric, which have cooling and healing properties. The hair is then offered to holy waters, such as the Ganges or the Yarmuna.
The act of TONSURING is when hair is cut for religious purposes/offerings. Within Hinduism, men, women and children have their lovely locks shaved and offered to God as a MANNAT, a promise in return for a wish (e.g for a loved one to get better from an illness) or as an offering of Thanks for a blessing in one’s life. This act of tonsuring is prevalent in the temples of Varanasi and Tirupathi, where hundreds of worshippers gather each day to give their offerings. It’s an important custom in Hinduism, as the ritual of shaving one’s head allows you to be closer to God, demonstrating a total submission, whereby all of your arrogance and vanity has been removed.
The final ceremonial haircut takes place when a family member dies. The Mundan is observed by the wife of the deceased, and the eldest son or male relative who is to perform the last rites. The wife is expected to keep her head permanently shaved from now on, as a symbol of her widowhood, while the male family member is to remain shaven during the mourning period only. It is believed that the removal of hair will also remove one’s ego and sense of arrogance and vanity, with it being replaced by a new sense of responsibility, positive energy and humility. It is also seen as a symbol of grief and a mark of respect for the departed soul.