After the passing of a loved one, different cultures have different ways of showing they are mourning or traditions that provide closure for the beloved ones of the passing person. In the Hindu culture, there is a very famous rite that involves cutting the hair or shaving the head of the family members of the elder that passed. Though this tradition has been disappearing in recent years, it is still a very significant practice for a lot of communities. However, the biggest majority of people don’t know why this is practiced, there are actually a series of reasons revolving around the tradition.
But first, what is this practice of Mundan?
The practice, known as Mundan, involves shaving the head when someone dies to signifies the idea of rebirth, as the shaved head represents a new beginning and a fresh start.
After the death of a family member, Hindu families usually observe a period of mourning called "Apara Paksha" or "Shraadh," which lasts for a specific number of days (usually 13 days). During this period, certain rituals and customs are observed to pay respect to the departed soul.
There are two main types of Mundan that lie in the Spirituality of the religion. The practice is also somewhat associated with Chudakarana, which is the rite of shaving a baby’s head, their first haircut.
Types of Mundan
Mundan has two types of practices done after an elderly has passed.
- The first kind of Mundan is done to the wives of the passing man, their head is shaved as a sign of widowhood. In this kind of Mundan, the woman is not allowed to grow her hair until she herself passes.This custom is much rarer than the other Mundan and is only usually observed among the higher castes nowadays.
- The other type of Mundan is done to the son and other male relatives of the deceased. However, unlike the Mundadn performed to the widow, this kind allows them to grow their hair after the mourning period has passed.
As a symbol of Purification
In Hinduism, as well as in other cultures, hair removal is a sign of purification. This is a purification that the male descendants of the deceased are expected to undergo (notice, women aren’t). The act purifies them so they are able to perform the customary rites that come with the death of a family member. The reason why hair shaving means purification has to do with the detachment of your beauty and vanity, which leads us to the following reason.
Shedding their ego
Shaving the head for the male family is a sign of detaching from their ego. The death of an elderly is likely to make their descendants arrogant and proud. The shaving ritual reminds the people who are getting shaved that, while they might hold a different position within their family now or that they have a recently deceased family member, they still have to exhibit obedience towards the words prescribed by the scriptures. This way they are both showing their faith and giving up their egoistic tendencies.
Symbol of mourning
In both types of rites, the loss of the hair is to show the outer community that the individuals are mourning, the widows eternally, and the males for the mourning period. Just like wearing black in western cultures, it is a way to announce the community that the family has gone through the passing of a loved one. It also mentally prepares their social connections to move with them cautiously.
Letting go of the Tamsik Tendency
In some branches of Hinduism, hair signifies the Tamsik tendency. The complete loss of the hair signifies they are giving up this tendency, which frees them of the inherent ignorance it carries. This is a way in which they prepare for taking up the responsibilities left by the death elder. That is why the practice is made by the male descendants since they are the ones taking up this responsibility.
Hinduism is very closely linked to the spirituality and energy of a person. Mourning is associated with negative energy, emotions, remorse, and similar things that make your overall energy negative. The removal of hair is preparing you for life after the deceased person and is supposed to fill you with positive energy to endure the rites of passage with full commitment and utter concentration. This is because, it is believed that when the hair is voluntarily shaved off, the energy will be redirected to the head are to balance the energy loss. Shaving off the head causes and gain of energy and creates a higher level of consciousness in the person.
Adopting detachment and vairagya
In the great majority of the cases, the death of a family member is hard on their family. The people close to them are deeply disturbed emotionally-wise and often makes them feel as if they had lost an important source of guidance and protection that they so comfortably enjoyed. The removal of hair also indicates preparation for the upcoming change, and they must do so with a sense of detachment and vairagya, to provide guidance to the family after the recent loss they have suffered.
It is a mark of respect for the person who passed. Respect for their life and who they were, but it also acts as a sign of gratitude towards them. By shaving their heads, the family members are sending gratitude towards the soul of the deceased so that they can get the highest amount of satisfaction in death.
In most cultures, Tonsure (the act of shaving your head) is associated with an offering for god or the gods. In Hinduism, it is particularly pointed towards that, as an offering to the gods and to the deceased. The symbolic sacrifice is a sacrifice of beauty, and this sacrifice is emitted for the departed souls.
Some branches of Hinduism only take some of these reasons for Mundan, while others do it for all of them. In the end, the hair is seen as a very strong focalization of energy and the loss of it symbolizes the loss of something greater.