Opinions on hair untangled

How do you feel about wearing long hair on your head? Different times from the beginning of civilization; contemporary places around the world; communities from the same region have held divergent and convergent opinions on hair. It has been used as a marker for sexual, social, economic or intellectual status.

In Greek mythology, the gods were distinguished by long hair and a beard, which symbolized their strength and power. During the times of ancient Greek and Roman civilizations, a disparity was maintained in hair styles of slaves from the royal family. Originally the slaves were forced to get rid of their beards as a sign of their acceptance of servitude.

Much later around the first century A.D., beard was associated with philosophers. Well, how do you remember Socrates? Yes, with the beard. The link had become so consistent that a Greek orator Herodes Atticus made an ironic statement in the second century A.D., about fraudulent philosophers, “I see the beard and the cloak, but I do not see the philosopher.”

In the seventh century A.D., a traveler Yuan Tsang visited India and made an observation that the king had his hair made into a coil while the populace kept their hair hanging down. Besides the royal sentiments, significant interpretation has been linked to the hair in religious background. Jewish Elders forbade the shaving of the four corners of the face. In Muslims, one of the greatest oaths was to swear by the beard of the prophet Mohammed.

Does the following sound familiar to you?

“Little pig, little pig, let me come in!

Not by the hair of my chinny chin chin!”

This rhyme in a popular nursery tale is suggestive of the oath upon the beard.

A Sikh maintains long hair and beard. Tidiness in keeping hair is his identity. Active participation in this world for personal enlightenment and welfare of humanity is his principle. He also uses suffix “Singh” to his name meaning “lion”. A mane of hair has been the symbol for majesty and the identification of lion, the beast declared to be the king of the jungle. The Sikh lives in humility with a majestic dignity and protects honor of the righteous humble. In other parts of the world, for example in Britain, the use of bearskin helmet by British Brigade of Guards and in North America, the plumage by the Dakota Indian chief was made to represent the mane due to its association with awe.

In eastern and central Asia, the native Buddhist monks maintain clean shaven heads. They believe in renunciation. However, in the western world, the nineteenth century saw dishevelled flowing hair of hippies as a mark of protest against the existing social structure.

When you see long hair on a person, how do you judge him? Do not be prejudiced. Now you know why.

Navjot Kaur Ph.D.
Research Associate in Dept. of Biochemistry, University of Wisconsin, USA