Opinion Op Ed 02 Jun 2016 Mystic Mantra: Cut a ...
Francis Gonsalves is a professor of theology. He can be contacted at fragons@gmail.com

Mystic Mantra: Cut above the rest

Published Jun 2, 2016, 2:14 am IST
Updated Jun 2, 2016, 2:14 am IST
In ancient Egypt, priests were called “bald-headed ones”.
Ordinarily, hair is a positive biblical image — fairly long, dark hair being an aesthetic norm. (Representational image)
 Ordinarily, hair is a positive biblical image — fairly long, dark hair being an aesthetic norm. (Representational image)

Our late President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam once remarked: “My hair grows and grows; you cannot stop it — that fellow grows, it grows wild.” His striking locks matched his scientific brilliance. Today, celebrities either showcase outlandish hairstyles or shave themselves bald as a hallmark of their charisma. But, the origins of shaving and coiffure are lost in time. So, let’s reflect upon hair.

In ancient Mesopotamia slaves and harlots were required by law to have a haircut that identified them as such. In ancient Egypt, priests were called “bald-headed ones”. In the Bible, David’s son, Absalom, and strongman Samson are legends with their long hair.

 

The Bible has over a hundred references to hair with meanings spanning health or ill-health. Ordinarily, hair is a positive biblical image — fairly long, dark hair being an aesthetic norm. The love-struck male in the Song of Songs compares his beloved’s flowing hair to “a flock of goats, moving down hill-slopes”, while she admires his “wavy locks, black as a raven”. By contrast, excessive growth of hair has overtones of the barbaric as in Esau’s hairiness and Nebuchadnezzar’s state of derangement when “his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers”.

 

Since heads full of hair signify health, vigour and beauty, there is a motif of the ignominy of being without hair. Prophet Isaiah predicts that on Judgment Day, God will become a divine haircutter (for men) who “will shave with a razor the head and the hair of the feet, and will sweep away the beard too”. Likewise, for women: “Instead of well-set hair, baldness; instead of beauty, shame.”

The treatment of hair can be a direct part of religious practice. Total shaving is stipulated in the ritual purification of males in the Books of Leviticus and Numbers. Today, too, across religions, shaving of hair signifies asceticism, renunciation, grief at the death of a loved one or simply fulfilment of vows.

 

Hair literally “gets raised” to the transcendental plane with biblical images of God having long, white and fiery hair. Lord Jesus is always pictured as having dark, long hair. In popular Hinduism, Lord Krishna has curly hair while Lord Shiv has thick matted hair. Goddesses Lakshmi and Durga have loose unbound hair symbolising their supernatural shakti.

It’s beautiful to see mothers painstakingly oiling and plaiting their daughters’ hair. Many of us spend much money on dyes, transplants, hairdos and hair don’ts.

 

Instead of splitting hair on what’s hair today, gone tomorrow, listen to Jesus’ consoling words: “Fear not! Even the hairs of your head are counted!”

Like Dr Kalam, I can’t say “it grows and grows”, for my hair goes and goes. But if God loves me so much that He keeps count of my hairs, why worry?

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