Hair Styles of the Tribes and Castes of India (Post No.3208)


Nayars of Kerala

Compiled by London Swaminathan


Date: 1 October 2016


Time uploaded in London: 21-20


Post No.3208


Pictures are taken from various sources; thanks.





From Arthur Miles book , “The Land of the Lingam” , Year 1933


Kondhs Hair Style

Both men and women among Kondhs paid much attention to their hair,decorating it with flowers and huge pins made of deer horn. Young girls wear pieces of broom in their ears until they are married, but once married they adorn themselves with as many  earrings as their husbands can afford.




Hair Style of Nayar women (Kerala) 


The Nair women are the most beautiful women in India. Their bodies, with very few exceptions, would cause a sculptor to take out his sketch book and sharpen his pencil. They wear very little clothing, but what they do wear is frequently washed and changed. Their hair never looks greasy as other Indian hair, and they wash it frequently with the pods of saponaceous plants. Their skin is their great pride, and any eruption on it considered a disgrace. They wear no head dress, but often decorate their hair with flowers. They mutilate their beauty in but one way –the lobes of their ears are dilated with pieces of metal. Contrary to the usual custom, they have their nose ring in the left nostril and they wear many gold bracelets and finger rings. A favourite talisman consists of the hair from an elephant’s tail, plaited and worn on the wrist.




Lama woman

Maali’s (Gardners) Hair Offering


Once the Maali returned without hair on his head or face and looking like a plucked chicken. A few days later, while planting a bed of dahlias he told us the why and wherefore of his denuded condition. A poor family, who have little to give to the gods, will promise the hair of their child. The child is then brought up with this promise in mind, and the sacrifice is made. It is, however, a sacrifice where the poor feel that they can at least offer as much as the rich, and give prodigally of the hirsute offering.


This sacrifice is especially meritorious when made by a woman, who has to face her friends and relations shorn off the beauty she has nurtured and trained with so much care. What becomes of the hair is the secret of the Brahman priests but in the temple of Palani near Madura and in the temple at Tirupati , one can always see sufficient quantities to keep the European markets busy for years. Sleeping on a hair mattress in England, one cannot help casting one’s mind back to the temples of India.





Parting of Woman’s Hair and Sakti Principle 


To illustrate the far fetched meaning dragged into every act of daily life, I quote the following by an Indian writer, because it bears on the Sakti


Written in 1926………


The Hindu ladies in southern India wear their hair parted by a furrow on their crown of head. What is this custom due to?


Ladies in different countries wear their hair arranged in different ways. Some wear it in a single pig tail while others are in two or more pigtails and so on. A large quantity of curl paper is made use of in the countries of the West to give the hair an artificial curl in place of one denied by Dame Nnature. But the Hindu ladies wear their hair parted on the crown a line running from front to back. In the case of grownup and aged dames , the hair is simply gathered in a knot,

Whereas young girls and women wear it in a single pig tail. But everyone wears it parted on either side leaving furrow like streak of skin exposed on the crown of the head…,

Like every other Hindu custom this also followed with a particular significance attached to it. A woman symbolises Sakti or Power. There is also a myth emphasising this statement. Siva, one of the Hindu Trinity, was once conceited and thought he was the all in all. His wife, Uma , wanted to teach him that without her help , he would be able to achieve nothing. With this object in view She, who was always with Him and in Him, left him for a while. Siva all on a sudden felt himself deprived of all his strength and energy to activity! He was lying in a precarious condition, unable even to stir when his wife there. He prayed to her to lift him up. She told him that he might try to stand up without her help, as he could not do so he had to acknowledge her position as Sakti.


After a lot more of the same, the author says, this is the reason why Sakti is assigned a very important place in every form of worship and in temples “……….


When once this fact is grasped the custom of leaving a furrow on the crown of woman’s head parting the hair into the right half and the left half will be intelligible. It symbolises the radiation of the positive and the negative energies from a central place…..,”


The furrow…represents in a masterly manner this completion of the circuit between two mighty positive and negative centres, resulting in the mental plane in the formation of the universe in the beginning, to be later on crystallised and materialised into the coarser world we see ………”


The writer of the above evidently became a little involved. But let us hope that when a woman has got away from the pigtail stage and furrows her hair properly, she will understand the completion of the circuit between two mighty positive and negative centres.





Widows hair style

Brahmin widows shave their head and cover it with her saree. A particular colour saree, like ascetic s saffron robe, is worn them ;but this is not practised anymore.Among the Tamil Vaishnavites, Tenkalai Vaishnavites are forbidden to cut their hairs.




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