A History of Hair and Why You Should Keep It

Nov 2015
As many of you know, I keep kesh - the spiritual duty enjoined by the Sikh Gurus of not cutting one's hair. My hair has been that which I have struggled with as a topic almost more than any other. In keeping my hair I have spiritually transformed to be unimaginably more confident in myself and my ability to live a spiritually centered life. This post is largely informational, my findings on hair throughout history in a unified manner. Something very important to me is that Baha'i's study unity. Frankly I feel like the Baha'i faith has been put into a box just like every other religion. The religion itself preaches unity: There are no boxes except the box of the Lord. However, people seem to be very keen on not caring about anything that isn't Baha'i. It's as though notes have been provided by God so voluminously that they stack over one's head, yet so many take the first few pages on the top as they are the most recent, and then disregard the rest. In all the talks I have had about the faith I always draw from every religion, not just the Baha'i faith, for all religions are one. And so, in this post, I shall look at the unity of things. I wasn't sure whether to post this here or in the interfaith section as a result - But truly is there such thing as interfaith when there is but one faith from God? :p

The braid. A very recognizable hairstyle, a fashion statement to others, a lifestyle for others still. Back in the times when trees were our sages and we lived as one with everything, the braid was a common trope and one of the only hairstyles really depicted at all by ancient peoples in their art (I feel as though for simplicity's sake hair was often left out of their pictures). And so, this method of having long hair in a manner that is not wild but contained, is a simple idea that has been around since the dawn of modern humans.

Eventually, messengers came and left, humanity had began to become socially structured into bands of people, and a few bands even, well, banded together for greater support. It was at this time when people began being more social that Swayambhuva Manu of Hindu legend had invented things like the first proper calendar, and he had gotten a group of 7 sages together as his advisors as he was the "world-emperor" as Manu is held to be as a position. These 7 sages created such a stir among these bands, the intelligence of humanity itself had been raised up by these men as they revolutionized spiritual ideas. Vasishtha, the head of these sages, had told people to wear the long hair they sported in a bun on the right side of their heads. This was important to these ancient bands as one seen wearing this bun would then be recognized as a spiritually capable person instead of perhaps the common braided folk, or the dangerous forest dwelling madmen who wore their hair wildly and would attack those on their territory.

Many of the children of these 7 sages were also sages themselves and served the future Manus after Swayambhuva. Kashyapa was such a man, child of Marichi, one of the original 7 sages. He introduced people to the concept of fasting, and largely compiled the funeral rights of his age. Among his funeral rights was to be found that mourners should shave everything. Then, to be seen with short hair was considered something surprising - One with short hair is seen to be one who lost somebody. And in small bands where society is quite diminutive, it very well shows that that person's family is down a hand and could use help. You don't even have to ask them, they have no hair or their hair is regrowing and is short. If one saw this, they knew this person was recently at a funeral, they may not be okay and their family may need a helping hand. All from simply looking at someone, not even speaking to them. This was the value of shaving and having short hair for people: A show of sadness, and perhaps, a cry for familial aid.

And this was the norm for very, very long. Eventually in the future, to the same societies in which Kashyapa and Vasishtha preached, Tanhankara, the "first Buddha" appeared. People expected a Manu, another ruler to lead them, but instead arrived a sagely man who had no desires for power, and showed them even that kings have relatively little power. He empowered the common people and the chiefs of tribes alike, teaching aspects of mysticism, the deeper underlying mechanics of the universe at large. And so, he told his followers to wear their long hair in matted locks (think dreadlocks but not quite), that would be put in a round bun atop ones head. Then, if one were to come across one with matted locks in this fashion they knew they were one in which the complicated matters of spirituality were known to. These people were the spiritual counselors of ancient times.

The sagely "founder" of China perhaps, Fu Xi, author of the I Ching, had spoken about parenthood and the respect that parents should receive from their children. Among one of these was that our bodies were formed by our mother and father (though ultimately, as God is the "Prime Mover" as I believe Abdu'l-Baha put it, it goes back to God), and so to cut your hair was to remove yourself from your parents, and I know this statement is the subject of many jokes nowadays, but truly, it was considered dishonour to one's family. However, one cannot just have barbaric wild hair flowing about. Hence braids and ornate buns were the norm.

Even in the Ramayana, Rama was exiled due to a ploy of the queen, something in such ancient times and even now is considered a big deal. And, when his banishment had ended, he was a new man - His matted locks were shaved off, and he bathed. The shaving of hair, hundreds upon hundreds of years after Kashyapa's funeral rites of shaving ones hair, was still considered a big deal. You could easily spot a man who had just been through something tough. Rama was painfully exiled, a cause for the mourning of many, and now that his exile was over, he would regrow his locks within the confines of the society that loved and cared for him. You could easily spot something had happened to Rama - his hair is gone! It was still, all these years later, a statement that something big had happened and that that individual may need aid. Because, if one has been banished for so many years, who knows how things have changed in their exile? Maybe the bald man has no money due to being exiled, sounds like a plan to buy him lunch. Hehe.

Fast forwarding a while, in the Old Testament hair finds mention a few times. This is where things start to stray. By the times of Moses, a strange change had occurred. After so much of human history, cutting one's hair had become the societal norm. My reasoning for this would be that, Moses lived in the time of the Kali Yuga, the era in humanity in which virtue and goodness was least abundant. The society of Fu Xi which was in the Satya Yuga, the age where all is grand and wondrous, would certainly be shocked to see such disrespect for parents. Alas, sometimes things that mean so much get lost or abandoned by society, and the messengers of God have the grand task of getting humanity on track. However, to suddenly flip society on it's head would cause massive uproar. An unlawful society must have laws gradually put in place: Think how laws of Baha'u'llah have been gradually applied to the sphere of the world instead of suddenly all at once. The uproar would be insane. Perhaps this is also why society is depicted as sinful largely in the Bible and in need of redemption by a figure such as Jesus. And so, Moses had developed the Nazirite Vow. If one wished to be closer to God or had perhaps done wrong, the Nazirite Vow was there. One could dedicate themselves to God and truly transform their lives, abstaining from alcohol and ceasing to cut their hair. This vow has no set time period. People say that it has a duration of 30 days but this to my knowledge is based on Jewish elder traditions and not a scriptural basis. One can be a Nazirite all their life even, and what is considered higher than one who dedicated their life to God, other than God Himself? So, to this society which was not exactly at it's peak, what was the norm in the bygone age became something one was considered even praiseworthy for upholding in the Kali Yuga. Think of that! Samson was given such power by his hair, and he did not lose this power until his hair was cut. Also in Leviticus it says one should not cut their bodies - going back to Fu Xi's talk about parents here - Even though your hair may not have nerves, it's obviously still part of your body. While people may not have heeded this, those who truly had it in their hearts to serve God would most certainly be attracted to the lifestyle of a Nazirite. It is almost like a test. If one already chooses to follow that rule, not cutting one's body, and they realize their hair is indeed a bodily thing, why not at that point dedicate your life to God and become a Nazirite? In fact, the only time a Nazirite is to cut their hair, these people whom dedicated their lives to God - is when they STOP being a Nazirite! Similarly, also in Leviticus still, one is not to balden themselves or trim even the edges of their beard. It actually says that not once but twice, alongside the talk of not cutting one's body and also on top of the Nazirite vow. Leviticus likes its hair. It furthermore mentions that if one has leprosy and is to be cleansed, they are to cut their hair. Oh hey. Reminds me of Kashyapa's mourners. That person doesn't have hair, they are sick with leprosy. Simply due to them cutting their hair it is discernible that something is wrong. Jeremiah also mentions how the nations who are uncircumcised of heart also cut their hair, and even goes as far as to tell everyone to cut their hair (the specific term for hair in this is actually crown, as though we are kings!) because the truth had vanished from society. Cutting of the hair in this case almost sounds like a punishment. However, by the time of Ezekiel, society was still straying from God to the point where people were told to cut their hair off and do ritual with it for their sins. There is a line about cutting one's hair in which has been translated various different ways, due to seeming linguistic issues with the words used. As such there has been many a scholarly paper calling for this passage to be viewed in new light. It reads essentially saying that the priests should not shave, nor let their hair grow, but are allowed to trim. The root words used make it clear that the version of this passage we have today in English is not translated perfectly, revealing that instead of not being allowed to let their hair grow, in actuality it is that they are not allowed to tear their hair out, and similarly the act of trimming is more akin to unbinding, letting ones hair down. Tearing the hair out or shaving as established is a mourning procedure and so it's not fit for a priest to do so. As to whether trimming vs unbinding is correct? Unsure. I have two speculations. If unbinding is true, a priest shall not cut their hair but also doesn't need to constantly keep it up, these are the ones allowed loose hair. Alternatively, if the word is trimming, which I'm less inclined to believe, perhaps a test of some sort? For a priest in this time is fully allowed to take the Nazirite vow - and who WOULDN'T go with the Nazirite priest who devoted his life to God, over the one who has decided not to take such a vow and trims his hair?

And now the New Testament! I will try to be more brief: Paul directly called it disgraceful for one's wife to cut their hair or shave their head. And are men not equal to women? And we get told to judge for ourselves, is it okay for a woman to pray with her head uncovered? He brings up the topic of how there is a double standard, for women it's considered glorious to have long hair and for men it's a disgrace. But, maybe that's just what society has judged ;). Alternatively, it should be noted that while it's generally agreed that Paul wrote the letter, it's also been suggested many a time that the letter has suffered interpolation and additions that were not in the original especially pertaining to women and their treatment. In Matthew, even the hairs on our head are all numbered. And, in Acts, Paul is somewhat indirectly mentioned as beginning the Nazarite vow, as while it's not directly attested it wasn't uncommon for people to shave before undertaking the vow. Also, given that the duration being 30 days is but a tradition, I'm unsure why Paul would be ending his vow rather than starting it - if it even is the Nazarite vow and not a different vow! I suppose this shows how far he has come since being Saul. Some people have also argued that while it's not directly mentioned that he took the Nazarite vow, he fulfilled such vows till the end of his days.

Mani and his priesthood also sported long hair a couple hundred years after Jesus.

With the advent of Islam, there was understandably much love for Muhammad by his followers and people started growing beards similarly to emulate him. I suppose the man must have had a relatively faint mustache, as it's said he did not trim his facial hair but let it grow. However, in emulation, people would cut back their mustaches while letting the rest of their beard flow. And at some point, this became almost like a requirement (be it, one with no basis) to the point that Baha'u'llah actually even had to write that this trim is not something enjoined upon us. But even still, these small 'stached bearded men even made their way to Sikhi - a Pir had trekked to India following a star upon the birth of Guru Gobind Singh, and sat outside his parents door waiting to see such a child. That was kind of a segue into Sikhi but here goes. Guru Gobind Singh had said it was incumbent upon the Khalsa (his followers whom, like an updated Nazarite vow? abstained from wine and kept the 5 kakkars, dedicating their entire existence to God) to grow their hair and wear the kakkars - the 5 being kesh (uncut hair) kangha (wooden comb, fun fact it's said Muhammad also told people to make sure they comb their hair just as Gobind Singh echoed), Kara (iron bracelet), Kacchera (Underwear), and Kirpan (Dagger) - not just as items, but as their body itself. I do not take off my hand when I shower for example, and so I would not remove my kara or my hair similarly. However, Guru Gobind Singh said while the other 4 are not incumbent upon the general population, kesh, uncut hair, is for all, be they Sahajdhari (Laymen) or even non-Sikhs. He spoke at length about how it is a natural part of the body and its intentionally growing the way it does. By the time of Guru Gobind Singh, he knew that the Kali Yuga was coming to a close. He had dedicated the scripture of the Sikhs to be their next, eternal, living Guru. As a guru in Sikhi is one who, instead of making prophecy, focuses on the period in which they live and how to improve things in a more immediate fashion. I wouldn't doubt if some characters from the Bible would be retroactively classified as Gurus as such. The Guru Granth Sahib, being eternal, shall always speak to the era it is in, and now it lives in our era. I follow its lifestyle as I believe personally it goes hand in hand with the Baha'i message and is a key component for the modern era until the next messenger comes. The Guru Granth Sahib is not a book of law I should note, and the laws I follow are that of the Aqdas. It did not bring law but concepts and ideas which Baha'u'llah even affirmed such as the fruitlessness of gossip. The Guru Granth Sahib did not 'talk over' Baha'u'llah by writing down a synopsis of laws for this age, Baha'u''lah had such a glorious task. And Baha'u'llah did not 'talk over' the Guru similarly. They let each other speak for themselves and their unity is apparent by a simple reading.

This leads us to the modern revelation. Technology is abundant. People are connected more than ever and are admittedly rather vain in instances because of it. Some have argued something like a mechanic job is impossible to do with long hair. If you choose to be like the forest dwellers of old and let your hair loosen and be wild, of course it won't end well for you when you lean over a car you're working on. However a man with a turban such as Abdu'l-Baha or the Gurus has no such issue, their hair is in place. And heck, even though it may be a foreign look in the west, beard buns are indeed a thing if you're worried. While I do not have anything I have found yet about the Bab and hair, I have certainly found some mentions by Baha'u'llah. The first I came across was the enjoinment for those visiting the house of The Bab to shave their heads. Remember though, this is a new era now. Instead of this being a sign of something like mourning or exile, if one came to you hairless (at least for a brief time) you would know - They went on pilgrimage! However, Baha'u'llah in the Aqdas overturns this rule in saying we cannot shave our heads. This next part has sparked many a philosophical debate with me. Though the law mentioned is to not shave ones heads, Baha'u'llah, who sported a full beard and luscious locks himself, had said it is not seemly for one to let their hair pass the limit of the ear. Not that one must cut it if it gets that long (your actual hairline physically goes below your ear on the back of your head for example, but you can't just shave it up to the limit of the ear, because shaving of the head is forbidden), but that it looks unseemly. Hmmmm. Perhaps like the unseemly looks of a wild man with loose hair in the forest? The 10 Sikh Gurus had said that ones hair should not be kept loose as well. So, in light of this entire thread, I see it quite fitting to say that cutting ones hair is likely not implied here, instead that our hair should be put in a manner in which our ears are exposed. Baha'u'llah had also said that the cut of ones beard is to his discretion, but not to become a plaything of the ignorant. Keep in mind as well while we no longer live in the Kali Yuga as Baha'u'llah has brought us out of it, we are also not in the Satya Yuga. We are in the Dvapara Yuga, on the rise to making things better out of the worst age. To me, I feel as though this is almost a test. All of history long hair has been kept. Is it more fitting to live the life of say, one from the Old Testament whom God's wrath is upon for straying? Or shall I dedicate myself to God like a Nazarite? He has created my hair to grow and so I will grow it for all of my days. If throughout the centuries it was the spiritual who wore long hair and it was those who had betrayed God being called to cast off their locks, I shall keep my locks forever because I am not a plaything of the ignorant. Even if they think my long hair is disgraceful or what have you. I did not grow it for them, I won't be subject to what THEY want for my hair. I will let it grow in the natural state in which God made it, out of love for God and the way He created me with tenderness and care.

Abdu'l-Baha also sported long hair, and you will notice the turban on his head, the fullness of his beard, and how his hair does not pass the limit of his ears but is usually slicked behind them. Granted I think it's highly possible and likely Abdu'l-Baha had trimmed the hair on his head as it is about shoulder length in the picture of him as a young adult, and we find it roughly the same length as he is old. Then again I know first hand a Sikh friend who has never cut their hair since birth, and yet their hair is shorter than Abdu'l-Baha's so maybe he got the luck of the genetic draw lol.

Interestingly, I had also read that Shoghi Effendi said that this part about hair passing the ears pertains only to men. I suppose it's rather common for women to wear their hair in manners that it passes over their ears, while a man like Abdu'l-Baha for example donned a turban. It also seemed rather commonplace for Baha'i's at the time to sport long hair tucked behind the ears in similar fashion, and I am certain some of you will have seen pictures of Baha'i's with hair likely even longer than some of the ladies you know. To close this off, I will post some quotes from a thread on another site:
"I do recall that Browne comments on the Baha'i men in Akka in the 1880s wearing their hair pulled back behind their ears and then cut off in the back at roughly the level of the ear lobe. "
It is of interest that Haydar Ali records that 'Abdu'l-Baha told him to stop shaving his head as this was against the law of the Aqdas, yet there was an established 'Baha'i' hairstyle with long hair combed behind the ears. This style was not simply contemporary usage but group specific and identifying.

It is actually physically impossible not to have hair growing below the level of the ears without shaving the head to some extent."

The final closing notes I shall give was that, according to a pilgrims note so do take with a grain of salt, that the commendment of hair passing the limit of the ear referred to hair within the ear growing so long it is no longer within the ear. Apparently some places it was tradition for men to intentionally grow out their ear hair and attempt to braid it. And, the reasoning for this being only for men would at least potentially be resolved through this pilgrims note, as on average hair in the ears is more common for men than it is for women.

Even if you decide to keep cutting your hair, I hope you at least found my perspective fascinating. I have just spent the last 7 hours fact checking and writing this and now that it's 3:15am I am exhausted and going to bed. I do it for you, my friends and family :) Happy Naw-Ruz.