Matted Locks & Shaven Head: Four Leaders’ Criticism

Maha Kumbh Mela. Man. Skull. Shaved. Worship.

Compiled by London Swaminathan.
Post No. 836 Date: 12th February 2014

Four great people criticise the hair style of the pseudo religious people of the ancient times. It is very interesting to see they are unanimous in their views though they lived at different times and different parts of India. The Buddha, Adi Shankara, Tiruvalluvar and Tirumular criticise those who have either shaved off their heads or grown long hair just as rituals.

It is very interesting to read about different hair styles of Lord Shiva in the Rudram Hymn of Yajur Veda. Shiva is described as a person with long hair ‘Kapardeen’ and a shaven head ‘Vyuptha Kesha:’
Adi Shankara on matted hair and shaven head:

“Jatilo mundi lunchita kesah
Kasayambara bahu krta vesah
Pasyannapi ca na pasyati mudho
Hyudaranimittam bahu krta vesah” (Bhaja Govindam 14)

India Hindu Festival

Adi Shankara’s Bhaja Govindam says,

“The ascetic with matted locks, the one with his head shaven, the one with hairs pulled out one by one, the one who disguises himself variously with the ochre coloured robes – such a one is a fool who, though seeing does not see. Indeed, this varied disguise is for the sake of the belly”.
This verse in the hymn is attributed to Totaka, a disciple of Shankara.

Dr T.M.P.Mahadevan says in his commentary:
Here is an indictment of the pseudo sanyasin (ascetic), the one who has done the garb of a ‘Yati’ (ascetic) for the purpose of deluding the world. In the case of such a one, the insignia of renunciation do but become a trade mark. The tonsure of the head, the matted locks, yellow robes—these and other features lose their significance if they are adopted for deceiving the people. He is like a character in a drama. In the case of the actor sanyasin, in a play the audience knows he is not a sanyasins in real life. The venom of the pseudo sanyasins lies in the fact that he passes for a genuine sanyasin. The classical example of such a one was Ravana who assumed the guise of a sanyasins to carry Sita away to Lanka.

Swami Chinmayananda in his commentary on this verse says,
“There must have been in Shankaracharya’s own times, if not as many as they are available now, at least a few who must have wandered into Sanyasa (ascetic life) as escapists from life, seeking and finding a happier life in bluffing the generation and playing upon the credulity of the people.

Such aberrations of personality are more to be pitied than condemned.
The author of this verse (Totaka) looks around and sees to his own utter amazement, that cheats and self deceivers are often wearing the very uniform of the highest vocation in life – Sanyasa. Some of the samples of these cheats are just being hinted at in this stanza.
Picture of a Jain monk.

Deception by matted locks, ochre robes etc., is universal and belongs to all times: the wolf in the tiger skin is nothing new, but in other walks of life such deceptions are not so dangerous as in the path of spirituality”.
(page 55, 56 of Bhaja Govindam, Commentary by Swami Chinmayananda)

My comments: The great Pallava King Mahendra Varman wrote a satirical drama ‘Mathavilasa prahasanam’, 1400 years ago, about the pseudo ascetics in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. His drama proved that Shankara and Totaka were right in their comments. But Buddha also saw such a sect 2600 years before our time. He could visualise what was going to happen to his own faith after his death. (Please read my earlier post Two Interesting Conversations about Women, posted on 5th February 2014.)


Buddha on long hair

“A man becomes not a Brahmin by matted hair or family of birth. The man in whom there is truth and holiness, he is in joy and he is a Brahmin. (Dhammapada 393)
Of what is the use of matted hair, foolish man, of what use your antelope garment, if within you have tangled cravings and without ascetic ornaments? (Dhammapada 394)”.

Tamil Poets Valluvan & Tirumular
Tiruvalluvar, author of Tirukkural, also has similar views.
It matters not whether a man shaves his hair or allows it to grow in flowing locks if he could refrain from what the word shuns (Tirukkural 280)

Dr S M Diaz in his English commentary on Tirukkural says,
“Shaven head or long hair does not make an ascetic; it is the pure heart which shuns hypocrisy that really matters. Rajaji would comment on this, ‘some hermits shave their heads clean and others allow their hair to grow wild, according to the order to which they belong. Purity makes the saint, not these and other externals”.

Tirumular in his Tirumanthiram echoed the same thought. He gives different interpretations for the words Tuft (Brahmin’s long hair) and the Thread that Brahmins wear. He insists that the external symbols are not important. He says Brahmins must be thorough with the Vedas ( In Tamil and Sanskrit same word is used for the books and thread).
tonsure Swastik_on_head

Pictures are taken from Wikipedia and other sites;thanks

Flags & Country Names: India showed the way

India that is Bharat…..begins the preamble to the Constitution of India. India is the first country in the word to name a country after a man. India is the first country in the world to use flags as well. Maha Bharata, the longest epic in the world, has proof for this. We are all descendants of King  Bharata.

All those born in this land before Bharata,

All those born after, are called after his name

(Mbh.: I.69.49)

Bharata means he who bears, protects and sustains the world. This is the role of India in the world. As long as India survives, Dharma, Truth, Morality and Honesty will survive. India is the only country in the world with the motto “ Truth alone triumphs “ (Satyameva Jayate from Mundakopanishad)

India is called Bhara Varsa after the great king Bharata, son of Shakuntala and King Dushyanta. He was called Sarva Damana=All Tamer. Kalidasa, the greatest poet India praised Bharata sky high:

He will be a Sovereign of the World, Know this too

Crossing the oceans in a chariot gliding smooth

He shall conquer and rule unopposed

The rich earth with her seven continents

Named All Tamer here, because he subdues all creatures

By his strength, the future will see his name

Proclaimed Bharata: He who bears the world (Shakuntalam VII-33)

We may take these lines as a poet’s prediction about the future of our great country-Bharat. India will rule the world, a Super Power for ever, not by sword but by the sword of wisdom. The great Tamil poet Subramanya Bharati also said the same about India: he sang that India will liberate everyone in the world by showing the right path. He repeated the line three times in a verse to make it more emphatic.

There are more than one Bharata in Hindu Mythology. Rishabadeva’s son was also called Bharata. And Jatabharata was also mentioned in the Hindu mythologies. Rig Veda mentions a tribe called Bharatas. Tamil Sangam literature also mentioned sea faring tribe Bhatratavar.

The Hindu priests always mentions in their Sankalpa (Intention to do a Puja or ritual), the time they perform and the place where they perform the ritual, which is unique in the world. No culture has this historical and geographical sense except Hindus. The priest says “ Jambudwipe, Bharata Varshe, Bharata Kande——“ when he mentions the geographical location. So Bharata’s name is repeatedly used even today.

Many people think that India was united by the British and there was no single country before that. But the Tamil Sangam literature and the oldest of the Puranas, Vishnu Puranam clearly said that it was one country from the Himalayas to the southern oceans. There are innumerable references in ancient Tamil works. Here is the Vishnu Puranam reference:

– Vishnu Purana (2.3.1)

uttara yatsamudrasya himādreścaiva dakiam
a tadbhārata nāma bhāratī yatra santati


उत्तरं यत्समुद्रस्य हिमाद्रेश्चैव दक्षिणम् ।

वर्षं तद् भारतं नाम भारती यत्र संततिः ।।

“The country (varam) that lies north of the ocean and south of the snowy mountains is called Bhāratam; there dwell the descendants of Bharata.”


India was the first country in the world to use flags. Unlike today, even individual leaders used flags in ancient India. We have proof for this even in Indus-Sarawathi  Valley civilization. The seals show some people carrying a standard in a procession. Some scholars identified the standard with a bird and others a bowl. Vedas also talk about flags and symbols . Ketu, Dwaja, Pathaka are the Sanskrit words used for the flags. Several mythological characters have these words as suffixes. e.g Asva Ketu, Kusa Dwajan


Temple Dwajarohana

All the Hindu temple festivals (in South India) start with Dwajarohana (raising the flag). The flag will be lowered ceremonially at the end of the festival. Every temple has a Dwajasthamba (Flag pole). All these show that the flags are part and parcel of Hinduism.

Poles known as Yupas were installed wherever Yagna or Yagas (fire ceremonies) were held.


Even Phoenician ships flew double cone flags in ancient times. Now we can see saffron coloured double cone flags on top of Hindu temples. Some temples have Aum or Swastik symbols on these flags. This is the most ancient flag. Dwaja is the Sanskrit word for flag (Tamil: Kodi).


Flags of Hindu Gods and Kings:

Shiva- Bull Flag

Vishnu/ Krishna- Garuda/ eagle flag

Skanda- peacock or cock

Hindu Gods were given various flags with symbols. When laymen asked questions about the logic behind such symbols they started telling various stories and eventually those symbols became Mounts of Gods-Vahanas. First there were only flags, later came the Vahanas.  Even Indo- Greek king Heliodorus in the North Western India built a Garuda Sthamba for Vishnu and he called himself Parama Bhagavata- a great devotee of Vishnu !


We have lot of references about flags from the Mauryan period. Paurava who fought against Alexander carried the flag of Heracles, says the Greek ambassador. By Heracles he meant Krishna or a Hindu God equal to Hercules.


Tamil kings Chera –Bow and arrow flag

Chola –Tiger flag

Pandya- Fish flag

Pallavas –Bull –Vrsa Dwaja

Other Pallavas- Khatwanga (Skull) flag

Some Pandyas-  Thunder and Lightning flag

(From page 45 of Yavarum Kelir by Dr R Nagaswamy)


Indra-Elephant called Erawan (Airavata )

Even today Laos and Thailand use this flag of Airavata, elephant of Indra

Kamadeva/Manmatha- Makara or Karkadwaja

Duryodana- Snake

Ravana – Veena (musical  instrument)

Arjuna- Hanuman/ monkey (Kapi Dwaja or Vanara Ketu)

Sanaiscara (planet Saturn)- Varaha Dwaja (Boar)

Indus King Jayadratha- Varaha Dwaja

Krupacharaya- Vrsabha Dwaja

Bhoja- Gaja Dwaja (elephant)

Lion flag was used by lot of people Meghanada (Ravana’s son), Bhima, Brhadbala, Varuna, Sri, Budha, Durga, Agni and Toya.

Sahadeva- Hamsa Dwaja

Nakula-Sarabha Swaja

Kumara Gupta, Yaudeyas,, Vrsa sena- Peacock Dwaja, Siki Dwaja

Pradyumna- Makaradwaja (Besnagar temple had this flag from 2nd Century BC)

Kushana king Kumara- Cock flag, Kukkuta Dwaja

Gahtotkacha and other Rakshasas- Vulture dwaja

Other flags:

Yakshas- Owl ,Alayudha- jackal,Yama-buffalo, Yamuna-Fish, ,Jyesta- Kaka Dwaja, Sura and Vatsarasa_ Pigeon,Bhisma- Palmyra flag,Tala Dwaja, Rama’s brother Bharata,Drstadyumna- Kovidara tree flag, Several sages_-Kusa Dwaja (kusa grass), Brahmanas- Lotus flag, Kinnaras- Lotus stalk/nala dwaja, Yaksha in Kalidasa’s Meghaduta- Cloud flag, Gupta king Chandra Gupta- Crescent moon,  Dronacharya- Vedika ( fire altar), Yudhistra/Dharma- Mrdanga drums, Ravana- Kapala/skull and Veena,Ramagupta- Chakra Dwaja.

Minor deities and Navagrahas are attributed with various flags.  Apart from animals and birds, other objects like swords, ladles, flowers were also used as flags. We can compare them to the modern day election symbols of the candidates. India can be proud of showing a very useful technique for illiterates and neo literates. They can easily remember symbols rather than words or names.


Tamil reference:


எல்லாரும் அமர நிலை எய்தும் நன்முறையை

இந்தியா உலகிற்களிக்கும்- ஆம்

இந்தியா உலகிற்களிக்கும்- ஆம் ஆம்

இந்தியா உலகிற்களிக்கும் வாழ்க (பாரதி)

Tamil References about flags from Dr R Nagaswamy’s book “Yavarum Kelir”

விசைய வெண்கொடி (புறம் 462),  விசையம் வெல் கொடி (முல்லை 91) வென்றெழு கொடி (மலைபடு 582), வான் தோய் வெல் கொடி (பதிற். 67-1)

அடலேறு வலத்துயர் வைத்த பிரான் (தெள்ளாற்றெரிந்த நந்திவர்மனின் கொடி), இடியுருவேந்திய கோன்(பாண்டிக்கோவை 242).