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THE HINDU TONSURE.
By the command of the Véda, the ceremony of tonsure should be legally performed by the three first classes in the first or third year after birth. (Manu II. 35.)
Perhaps nothing impresses a stranger in India so much as the peculiar manner in which the Hindu treats his hair. He sees some with a clean shaven head, except a top knot of greater or less size and length whilst others have portions only of the scalp shaven, leaving most fantastic locks of varying size and shape. On the other hand some few are to be seen with the head.covered with long, thick, tangled hair that seems as though it had not been interfered with, in any way, either from the tonsorial, or the toilet point of view, since the hour of birth. The absence of any head covering in so large a number of cases of those to be met with in the streets and thoroughfares, gives ample opportunity to observe the peculiar modes of dealing with the hair to which allusion is here made.
It is by no means easy, for the uninitiated, to arrive at the true reason for this varying coiffure; and personal enquiry of a chance acquaintance, would, probably, result in but little true information. If the ordinary Hindu were accosted and questioned on his own tonsorial peculiarity, he would probably bave no reason whatever to give for it, except the universal answer to such questions, of its being the custom of his caste. Indeed very few of the Hindus know the reason why of any of the habits and customs that strike a foreigner as so peculiar; and they would perhaps treat as ridiculous any catechising on such matters-the custom exists and therefore it is followed, that is quite enough for them; and if they are satisfied why should others trouble about it.
It is intended in this chapter to give some account of the Hindu manner of wearing the hair, and of the reasons why for the same. It must be premised, however, that nothing is here intended by way of an elaborate or learned disquisition. In this, as in other chapters, our chief efforts will be directed to giving a more or less popular account of things that lie on the surface of Hindu life, and concerning which so little is really know, even amongst the natives themselves in general, not to mention ordinary Anglo-Indians in particular.
Under the title of “ The Hindu Tonsure" it will be necessary to allude somewhat to the moustaches and other hair of the sacred person of the twice born ; for the hair, as almost everything else, enters into the complex religious ritual of the Brahminica) religion ; indeed, as will be seen further on, the hair is thought to be a symbol of sin, and the cutting it off a symbolical way of casting off sin; still, as the sacred top-knot is of prime importance, that will be the chief subject upon which we shall enlarge. The Sanskrit name of this top-knot is sikha, and by that name it is known amongst the upper classes of all Hindus whatever their vernacular. In Tamil it is called cudimi, in Telugu zuttu.
It is curious circumstance, and one suggestive of further study, that whilst the tonsure of the Roman Catholic Priest-the first ceremony in dedicating a person to the priesthood-consists of shaving a circle on the crown of the head, the Hindu tonsure—one of the chief ceremonies in the Upanayanam, or investiture with sacred powers—consists of removing all the bair except a circular portion situated on the same part of the head.
Although the sikha is so important that without it a Brahmin is not a Brahmin, -the tonsure and the investiture with the Yagnopavitam being the chief elements in the Upanayanam or spiritual birth of the twice born,—there seems to be but very slight foundation for so complicated a superstructure. Learned Shastris seem to be unable to give anything on the point from the Védas except the mantram that will be quoted by and bye, and the allusions to the same in Manava Dharma Sāstra. The ceremonies, as is the case with
80 many others, appear to have gradually grown with the growth of the rest of the Hindu rituals. The first notice of it that appears in the Laws of Manu is where, probably in allusion to the Vedic mantram, the thing itself is taken for granted in the following notice :
“By oblations to fire during the mother's pregnancy, by holy rites on the birth of the child, by the tonsure of his head with a lock of hair left on it, by the ligation of the sacrificial cord are the birth taints of the three classes wholly removed.” (II. 27.)
Hair ceremonies may be said to commence before the birth of a child at all, as, for some six months before that event, the father abstains altogether from shaving until the eleventh day of the child's birth. Doubtless this ceremony is set aside in many
instances in the present day of compromises, especially in the case of Government and other officials who would not think it respectful to appear before their superiors with a beard of such a growth. By orthodox Hindus, however, and especially those in rural parts who have not yet learned to accommodate themselves to circumstances, this custom is still strictly followed.
In the laws of Manu it is thus written :
* By the command of the Veda, the ceremony of tonsure should be legally performed by the three first classes in the first or third year after the birth.” (II. 35).
This command is still strictly carried into effect; but it is now usually done at about the third year instead of the first. There are instances where the hair of a boy may not be cut at all until the Upanayanam ceremony. This would be in the event of either of the parents making a vow to that effect. Suppose the infant were taken ill, or any like misfortune were to happen to him, a vow might be made to a certain god, that the first hair cutting of the child should take place at the shrine of the god invoked. For instance, at Tirupati in North Arcot, the chief shrine of the god Venkatēshvara (a local name under which Vishnu is worshipped).
The ceremony of first performance of the tonsure (chaulam) is somewhat as follows. Hitherto the boy's hair has been allowed to grow like that of a girl, and the fond mother has been wont to cherish it, and ornament it, in the same way, with plaitings and jewels; but now the heretofore uncut locks must be sacrificed to the inexhorable laws of the Hindu religion. On a propitious day, previously fixed upon by the Purõhita, musicians are called, and a feast is prepared for friends and relatives ; it is not, however, considered so important an occasion as to call for very great expense or trouble. The first three cuts with the scissors must be made by the mother's brother, or failing such a relative, by the next nearest of kin on the mother's side. After these first three cuts have been made, the boy is handed over to the family barber, who clips off all the hair except a small spot on the top of the head. Some time after this clipping, perhaps a month after, the head is shaved for the first time, and doubtless many a gash has been inflicted, and many a tear shed on such occasions. It must be borne in mind that the Hindu barber does not make a nice lather with soap or any like substance; water, pure and simple, is rubbed over the parts to be operated upon, and then all is left to the cutting powers of the clumsy-looking razor. When the head is thus shaved, various fashions are adopted, according to varying ideas of beauty! Sometimes separate locks are left over the temples and at the back of the ears ; these are called kakapaksham or crow's wings. Sometimes, again, the hair is allowed to grow all round the head, whilst the whole of the top is clean shaven. These varying forms of beauty may be seen any day, as one passes our juvenile Aryan brethren, with their little heads bared to the scorching sun. The head is shaven, as a rule, about once a month.
One interesting fact, already alluded to as connected with this first cutting of the hair, may here be more fully explained. If for any cause whatever, the boy's mother bas made a vow to a certain god, as above explained, it is the rule for this cutting of the congenital hair to be made at the shrine of the god invoked. A pilgrimage is arranged to the place, and there the ceremony is performed. Sometimes, however, it may not, for financial or other reasons, be convenient for such a pilgrimage, at the time when it is imperative to perform the ceremony. In such a case the shaving takes place at home; but a small tuft is left near the sikha, to be removed at the shrine when opportunity for a pilgrimage occurs. Sometimes the hair that has been clipped off is preserved, and tied up in a cloth to the rafters of the house until a pilgrimage can be arranged. This is the only occasion upon which the hair is allowed to remain in the house ; cut hair is always considered as impure. When opportunity offers the hair is then taken to the shrine, and thrown into the sacred tank of the temple, or delivered to the officiating priest for disposal. The god Venkateshvara at Tirupati is a favourite one in South India for such vows. This god also has a shrine at Dvāraka Tirumala, near Ellore in the Godavery District, which is perhaps for all practical purposes held as holy as Tirupati.
The real sacred tonsure is however not performed until what may be called the religious coming of age. This varies according to caste. The following is the law laid down on the subject :
“In the eighth year from the conception of a Brahmin, in the eleventh from that of a Kshatriya, and in the twelfth from that of a Vaisya, let the father invest the child with the marks of his class.” (Manu II. 36.).
These marks of the class consist of the Yagnopavītam, the mark on the forehead, and the Sikha or sacred top-knot. At this important ceremony the head is sbaven in the presence of the family, whilst the family priest chants mantrams, and musicians play on their instruments without. The top-kpot, and four small spots surrounding it, are left unshaven;