Sunday, November 13, 2011

Epic and Historical Haircuts

We have seen "Haircut and Stock Markets",  "Pure Haircuts and Cutters" and  "Haircut over the years".  Many haircuts (or sometimes lack of it) over the past several centuries have created history or changed its course.  There are references in our epics as well as incidents in history, when a haircut or lack of it achieved, impacted or changed the future of mankind.

One of the earliest references goes back to "Gangavatarana" or the bringing of  Divine Ganga from the heavens to the earth.  King Sagara, one of the Kings of Kosala and forefathers of Sri Rama, sent his sixty thousand (!) sons to find the sacred horse of Ashwamedha yaaga which went missing.  The princes found the horse next to a sage, Kapila, and accused him of being the thief.  Enraged by their misbehaviour,  Sage Kapila used his mystic powers and burnt them to ashes.  When King Bhagiratha, one of the descendants  of Sagara, did a long penance to bring the Divine Ganges to the Earth and make her flow over the ashes of Sixty Thousand sons ancestors and thereby provide them salvation, Ganga agreed to come down to the earth and meet his request.  Like all sanctions or approvals have some conditions, she challenged him to find a person to withstand the force of her flow from heaven.  Bhagiratha again did a long penance, this time meditating on Lord Shiva, to help him achieve this task.  Lord Shiva agreed and when Ganga jumped with all her force from heaven, he tied her in his long "Jata", long hair, and allowed further flow again only on Bhagiratha's request.  She still adorns Lord Shiva's head and any picture of his incomplete without Ganga in the middle of his hair.  Fortunately for Bhagiratha, Lord Shiva had kept long hair and this came in handy (or hairy) to stop the flow of mighty Ganga.  One can imagine Bhagiratha's plight if Lord Shiva was in the habit of getting regular haircuts.

Another reference we can see is in "Ramayana".  When SriRama is in Vanavaasa, his brother Bharata comes to the forest to request him to come back to Ayodhya.   Rama describes Bharata, prostrating before him on arrival in the forest, thus:

जटिलं चीरवसनं प्राञ्जलिं पतितं भुवि  ददर्श रामो दुदर्ष युगान्ते भास्करं यथा

"Jatilam cheeravasanam praanjalim patitam bhuvi, dadarsha ramo duradrsha yugantee bhaskaram yatha"

Bharata was a handsome prince.  But not having a hair dressing for several days had resulted in his hair turning into "Jataa",  a twisted mass of hair.  Coupled with his clothes ( Naarumadi or one used by sages living in the forest) this lack of hair dressing had made him a pathetic sight and Rama compares him with the Sun during the end of time, when the Sun loses his light and shine and looks dim and dull.  In many languages, including Sanskrit the word "Jatila",  meaning a twisted mass of hair which is difficult to comb and straighten, is used even today to describe problems which are very "difficult to resolve".  Of course, Lord Shiva is often described as "Jataajootadhari", one having a maze of twisted hair on his head.

Everyone knows that the root cause of the "Mahabharata" war was Draupadi's hair.  On the orders of his elder brother Duryoodhana, Dusshasana pulled Queen Draupadi by her hair and subsequent events led  to the Kurukshetra war.  But there is another important event that led to a famous haircut and other developments.  when the Paandavas were in the forest, during their Vanavaas, King Jayadratha or Saindhava, husband of Duryodhana's sister Dusshala, tried to kidnap Draupadi when the Paandavas were not around.  Paandavas arrived just in time, unlike our Police in most of the movies who arrive after the event, and Jayadratha was severely punished.  Since he was the husband of their cousin, his life was spared but his head was shaved off by Bhima as a punishment and he was unable to get back to his Kingdom for a long time until sufficient hair grew on his head.  There were further developments as a result of this episode which culminated in the killing of Abhimanyu and Jayadratha himself during the war.

It is a quirk of fate that while Jayadratha's haircut was due to attempted kidnap,  Rukmi's haircut was a result of attempt to prevent a kidnap.  Neither the kidnap attempt was successful nor the attempt to prevent it, but the heads of both the attempted kidnapper and attempter to prevent kidnap were shaved!  Krishna kidnapped Rukmini, sister of Rukmi, just before her marriage to the King of Chedi, Shishupala.  On learning of the kidnapping Rukmi followed Krishna, but was defeated by Krishna.  Krishna was about to kill him, but on a request by Rukmini to spare her brother's life, he tied up Rukmi with a strip of cloth and disfigured him by comically shaving him using the sword itself, leaving parts of the hair and mustache.   Rukmi was unable to go to his city until there was a full growth of hair on his head.  The episode is graphically described in the tenth chapter of  "Bhagavata".

There are many such reference to famous haircuts or lack of it in the Indian epics. In modern times also haircut has caught the imagination of mankind.  Hollywood movies have featured many personalities with famous and imaginative haircuts.  Yul Brynner, the Russian born  stage and film actor is well known for his clean shaven head.  He got his head shaved in 1951 to play the part of Mongkut, King of Siam in the musical play "The king and I" and appeared 4,525 times on stage in that role. This was a record for the "Most Durable Actor", until David Raven appeared  4,575 times as Major Metcalf  in  Agatha Christie's "Mousetrap".   Since he was appearing off and on on the stage, he carried the same clean shaven profile to his films as well and one cannot imagine Yul Brynner without a clean shaven head.  There were two movies, "The Haircut" in 1982 and  "Haircut" in 1995, besides an Album by George Thorogood by name "Haircut" in 1993.

The haircut of Rosy, played by Sarah Miles, in the David Lean film "Ryan's Daughter" is legendary.  Then there was  Persis Khambatta, Indian model and Actress and Beauty Queen.  Crowned as Miss India in 1965, she made waves when she appeared as Lieutenent Aliea in the 1979 firm "Startrek : The motion Picture".   We had our own bollywood film "Billoo Barber" and Indian version of Yul Brynner in Amarish Puri.  There was a film written, produced and directed by Kishore Kumar by name "Bhadti ka naam daadi" in which two characters played by Kishore Kumar and K N Singh fight for saving their beards and cutting off the others beard to win a "Long Beard" championship, only to be upstaged by a guest actor Ashok Kumar, in the end.

A recent report from Bangalore is a hair-cutter's success story.  Ramesh Babu was a seven year old boy when his father Gopal died.  Ramesh Babu's mother leased Gopal's hair cutting saloon for Rs. 5 per day and worked as a domestic help to bring up Ramesh Babu.  Ramesh Babu did his Diploma in Electronics, but went back to his father's saloon to work as a hair-cutter.  While working in the saloon he bought a "Maruti Omni" van and since he was in the saloon most of the time, started renting it out.   He found this profitable and then started "Ramesh Tours and Travels" and bought some more vehicles by borrowing from Banks.  Today, he is a billionaire and owns 90 vehicles including 27 luxury cars like Rolls Royce and  BMW.  He goes to work in a Rolls Royce Silver Ghost, but cuts hair for Rs. 65.  He works in saloon from 8 AM to 10 AM and 4 Pm to 7 PM.  From 10 AM to 4PM he works in the travel agency and again comes back at 8 PM to wind up the day's business.  His drivers are well dressed and well behaved, follow traffic rules and pay fines whenever they have to do so.  All vehicles are always leased and rented out, ranging from Rs. 1000 to Rs. 50000 per day.  Despite all these, he went to Singapore to learn cutting women's hair and works even on Sunday's without taking a day's off.

If you want a hair cut for Rs. 65 by a billionaire,  go to "Inner Space" saloon in Bangalore and meet Ramesh Babu.


  1. It's amusing the kind of importance that has been attributed by human beings for centuries to hair...i mean it is after all a mass of impurities and grows eventually...human vanity ...phew...Sunada

  2. Murthy ji- The barber you wrote about- Ramesh Babu....on the front page of Hindustan Times ,today. Posing with his Rolls Royce Ghost !
    (Hindustan Times dated 06th December 2011)