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Sikh Missionary Society UK 25 th Annual Gurmat Camp 28 th July – 4 th August 2002 Guru Gobind Khalsa College Chigwell, Essex. Human Hair and its Significance in Sikhism Presented by: Gurnam Singh, Warwick. Structure of Presentation.

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Sikh Missionary Society UK25th Annual Gurmat Camp 28th July – 4th August 2002Guru Gobind Khalsa CollegeChigwell, Essex.

Human Hair and its Significance in Sikhism

Presented by: Gurnam Singh, Warwick

SMS 25th Gurmat Camp

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Structure of Presentation

  • Biological Perspectives - What is hair and what practical purpose does it serve?

  • Sociological/Psychological Perspectives - What cultural significance does hair have and how does this impact on self identity?

  • Theological Perspectives - What place does human hair have in different religious traditions

  • Sikh (Gurmat) Perspectives – In what ways does not cutting hair concur with the essence of Sikhi?

SMS 25th Gurmat Camp

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What is Hair?

  • Generic term describing strong thread-like outgrowths of the epidermis of mammals.

  • Only mammals (most evolved) have true hair, and all mammals have hair (including elephants, whales, sheep (wool), bears (fur) and hedgehogs (spines).

  • composed chiefly of the horny, usually pigmented scleroprotein keratin

  • contain neither blood vessels nor nerves.

  • The hair grows from the bottom of the follicle where it is nourished by the blood vessels.

  • A minute muscle, is attached to each hair follicle; under the control of the autonomic nervous system the muscle contracts to make the hair “stand on end”.

  • Most mammals possess tactile hairs, the roots of which have a richly supply of sensory nerves.

  • Humans have the longest hair and the largest head.

  • Changes in hair reflect biological ageing process

SMS 25th Gurmat Camp

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What is the Function of Hair?

  • Guard Hairs (whiskers, spines) protection (cage or sensory)

  • Insulate - retain body heat and fluid

  • Camouflage e.g. Zebra

  • Signal - e.g white tailed deer -warning others of predators

  • Navigation in darkness

  • Defence and offence - locate prey and predator

  • Absorb harmful radiations from the sun.

  • Keep out coarse dust particles, as in eyelashes, hair in the nasal chambers and ear canals.

  • Eyebrows prevent water or perspiration from falling into eyes, due to their particular direction.

  • Axillary and pubic hair lessen friction between limbs and body, and between limbs during locomotion.

  • Beautify the body (otherwise why people do not shave off their hair from the head completely; bald men are desperate and would pay any price to get back on their heads).

  • Beard and moustaches are for differentiation of sex. Mostly males are decorated in nature, e.g. lion, peacock and other birds, deer, etc.

  • Defend the body in danger, by standing on their ends, thereby making the body look bigger.

SMS 25th Gurmat Camp

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Sociological/Psychological Perspectives

  • ‘Hair care’ - consumption i.e. big business

  • Group Identity/Affiliation e.g ‘Skin Heads’, Hippies, ‘David Beckham’, Dreadlocks, Hair sculpting.

  • Symbolising masculinity/femininity.

  • Cultural norms – peer group pressure

  • Symbolises ageing - cosmetic surgery!

SMS 25th Gurmat Camp

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Theological Perspectives

Jewish/Christian/Greek Tradition

  • Long uncut hair symbol of vitality, strength, morality and wisdom (eg Samson)

  • Cutting/tearing of hair symbolic of mourning and death – hair sacrificed to the dead

  • Symbol of great beauty – For this reason married Jewish women were required to cover their heads

  • Jesus and all his disciples kept their hair in tact.

  • In ancient Greece long hair symbolised godliness, youthfulness and wisdom

  • Later custom of shaving introduced by Alexander the Great. Why? Control over his armies perhaps!

SMS 25th Gurmat Camp

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Indian Tradition

  • Prior to the Mogul invasions, Brahmins were required to keep matted hair and rishi knots

  • Early Buddhist period – shaving sign of ugliness and contempt

  • Later shaving became a requirement for renunciation

  • Evidence that adulteress were punished by having their head shaven

  • Yogic/Sadhu tradition - Shaving symbolised renunciation i.e escape from social, political and cultural spheres

  • Thus to be an ascetic one needed to defy the principle of procreation and multiplication –

  • To the present day at ceremonies long haired Sadhus and Jains ritually tear out their hair as an act of renunciation.

SMS 25th Gurmat Camp

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Sikh Tradition

DnwsrI mhlw 1 Gru 3 Dhanaasaree, First Mehl, Third House:

<> siqgur pRswid ] One Universal Creator God. By The Grace Of The True Guru:

kwlu nwhI jogu nwhI nwhI sq kw Fbu ] No, no, this is not the time, when people know the way to Yoga and Truth.Qwnst jg Birst hoey fUbqw iev jgu ]1] The holy places of worship in the world are polluted, and so the world is drowning. ||1||kl mih rwm nwmu swru ]In this Dark Age of Kali Yuga, the Lord's Name is the most sublime.AKI q mItih nwk pkVih Tgx kau sMswru ]1] rhwau ] Some people try to deceive the world by closing their eyes and holding their nostrils closed. ||1||Pause||AWt syqI nwku pkVih sUJqy iqin loA ]They close off their nostrils with their fingers, and claim to see the three worlds.mgr pwCY kCu n sUJY eyhu pdmu AloA ]2]But they cannot even see what is behind them. What a strange lotus pose this is! ||2||KqRIAw q Drmu CoifAw mlyC BwiKAw ghI ]The K'shatriyas have abandoned their religion, and have adopted a foreign language.isRsit sB iek vrn hoeI Drm kI giq rhI ]3]The whole world has been reduced to the same social status; the state of righteousness and Dharma has been lost. ||3||Ast swj swij purwx soDih krih byd AiBAwsu ]They analyze eight chapters of (Panini's) grammar and the Puraanas. They study the Vedas,ibnu nwm hir ky mukiq nwhI khY nwnku dwsu ]4]1]6]8]but without the Lord's Name, no one is liberated; so says Nanak, the Lord's slave. ||4||1||6||8||

SMS 25th Gurmat Camp

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Sikh (Gurmat Principles)

Sikh scriptures tell us that the gurus rejected the following practices (Karm Kaand – Ritual practices) Such rituals designed to wash off sins and achieve salvation (jeeevan mikhti)

  • Self-mortification tormenting the body;

  • Enduring hunger, poverty, pain of hot and cold water / denying sleep;

  • Bathing at places of pilgrimage, river banks, etc.;

  • Celibacy and renouncing the world

  • Dwelling in wilderness,

  • Giving any spiritual significance to dress or nudity

  • Body painting, marking or rubbing the body with ash

  • Circumcision/splitting ears/shaving head/artificially growing long hair or nails.

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sUhI mhlw 1 Gru

Soohee, First Mehl, Seventh House:

<> siqgur pRswid ]

One Creator.

By The Grace Of The True Guru: 

jogu n iKMQw jogu n fMfY jogu n Bsm cVweIAY ]

Yoga is not the patched coat,

Yoga is not the walking stick.

Yoga is not smearing the body with ashes. 

jogu n muMdI mUMif mufwieAY jogu n isM|I vweIAY ]

Yoga is not the ear-rings,

and not the shaven head.

Yoga is not the blowing of the horn.

AMjn mwih inrMjin rhIAY jog jugiq iev pweIAY ]1]

Remaining unblemished in the

midst of the filth of the world –

this is the way to attain Yoga. ||1|| 

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glI jogu n hoeI ]

By mere words, Yoga is not attained. 

eyk idRsit kir smsir jwxY jogI khIAY soeI ]1] rhwau ]

One who looks upon all with a single eye,

and knows them to be one and the same –

he alone is known as a Yogi. ||1||Pause|| 

jogu n bwhir mVI mswxI jogu n qwVI lweIAY ]

Yoga is not wandering to the tombs of the dead;

Yoga is not sitting in trances. 

jogu n dyis idsMqir BivAY jogu n qIriQ nweIAY ]

Yoga is not wandering through foreign lands;

Yoga is not bathing at sacred shrines of pilgrimage.

AMjn mwih inrMjin rhIAY jog jugiq iev pweIAY ]2]

Remaining unblemished in the midst of the filth of the world –

this is the way to attain Yoga. ||2||

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siqguru BytY qw shsw qUtY Dwvqu vrij rhweIAY ]

Meeting with the True Guru, doubt is dispelled,

and the wandering mind is restrained.

inJru JrY shj Duin lwgY Gr hI prcw pweIAY ]

Nectar rains down, celestial music resounds,

and deep within, wisdom is obtained.

AMjn mwih inrMjin rhIAY jog jugiq iev pweIAY ]3]

Remaining unblemished in the midst of the filth of the world

- this is the way to attain Yoga. ||3||

nwnk jIviqAw mir rhIAY AYsw jogu kmweIAY ]

O Nanak, remain dead while yet alive

- practice such a Yoga.

vwjy bwJhu isM|I vwjY qau inrBau pdu pweIAY ]

When the horn is blown without being blown,

then you shall attain the state of fearless dignity.

AMjn mwih inrMjin rhIAY jog jugiq qau pweIAY ]4]1]8]

Remaining unblemished in the midst of the filth of the world –

this is the way to attain Yoga. ||4||1||8||

SMS 25th Gurmat Camp

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Guru Gobind Singh’s views on ritualism-

Akal Ustat, pp. 71-72

“Could the Lord be realised:

by eating filth,then the swine would;

by smearing the body with dust,then the ass and the elephant would;

by haunting the cremation grounds, then the vulture would;

by living in a domed monastery, then the owl would;

by wandering listlessly, then the deer would;

by standing still and silently, then the tree would;

by abstinence from sex, then the eunuch would;

by walking barefoot, then the monkey would."

SMS 25th Gurmat Camp

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  • Hair has serves a very important biological function

  • Historically most religious traditions were build upon a respect of the human form

  • In the Indian Tradition there have been two ideal paths :

  • Sadhu Maarg - one of becoming a recluse and renouncing all material possessions including the body!

  • Grist Maarg - living ones life in and through the material world of social, community and family life

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  • Sikhi states that the human form, in body, mind and spirit is the most advanced and perfect machinery for attaining salvation

  • Salvation is to be obtained by letting the body naturally mature and eventually die

  • By doing nothing, to keep and look after ones hair (i.e. to preserve that natural form) is to demonstrate ones inner spiritual strength and to gain acceptance from god.

  • Thus to cut ones hair, one is performing a ritual or cosmetic surgery aimed at gaining acceptance from others, to fit in, and to pander to ones ego.

SMS 25th Gurmat Camp