What Is Hindu Hair?

What Is Hindu Hair? May 6, 2016

This topic was a real surprise to me. A friend on Facebook shared a post from Kat Blaque, a well known vlogger and activist for issues of gender and race. Ms. Blaque was telling her readers about a man who said that he was growing dreadlocks as a way to express his new found religion: Hinduism.

She thought that sounded off so she was asking for input from Hindus about whether dreads are a part of the religion. To her he seemed like someone who is doing it more for vanity and finding an excuse.

To me it certainly also seemed strange. People on the householders path don’t have dreadlocked hair. You do see what are called jata in images of Lord Shiva and also on sadhus/ascetics.

One woman brought up something interesting, which is that jata are not the same as dreads. Apparently matting the hair is a different process from dreadlocks. That knowledge helped me understand why non-Black people wearing dreadlocks is often considered cultural misappropriation. I’ve always felt that if your hair does something naturally when you ignore it, then the result cannot be misappropriation. But I didn’t realize that what happens to White people’s hair when left alone is not the same as what happens to Black people’s hair.

The other thing I heard on this FB thread was that the reason you see jata on ascetics is that it is part of abandoning the world and vanity and just letting the hair go. I had not heard that as the reason before.

With a little further investigation I heard about this book called Dreads, which apparently traces the history of locks / matted hair. It suggests that the dreads worn in various cultures today grew from India.

However, I can’t say I’ve ever seen any Hindu who hasn’t abandoned the world wearing dreads or jata. My own comment was that he can do what he likes with his hair but if he thinks wearing dreads will make him look more authentically Hindu, he’s going to be disappointed!



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