Friday, November 25, 2011

Tonsuring a.k.a. Mundan

For few months I have been going through various religions and trying to understand their beliefs and philosophies and it has been quite a learning and eye opening journey so far. One of my latest researching revolved around Tonsuring (shaving off head completely).

I was amongst family and friends last month in India and it was a very special trip for me and my brother (read my previous post if curious to know why it was so special). One of the reasons was this old Indian tradition of Tonsuring. My younger nephew was due for this ritual so everyone in the family was excited about it.

Usually kids cry a lot when Tonsuring is done and I remember when my elder nephew had his, he cried like hell and I was so scared that I even at one point of time asked the priest to stop and take him to a Salon to get head shaved with electric machine but couldn't have done that, could I? Tradition is tradition and I don't dare to go against it. We went to our family temple in Rajasthan for his Mundan. All males in our family have had their Mundan there and there's a book in that temple in which there is a record of every member by date, day, name, father's name and family name.

(Kesriyaji in Rajasthan, India)

But for my younger nephew we went to Hardwar where my grandfather was trusty in the new Jain temple when he was alive and it was very close to his heart. Now my father attends the trusties meetings as just a member of the group but not a trusty.

 (Chintamani Parshvanath Jain Temple - Hardwar, India)

My younger nephew had a gala time with his Mundan because he didn't had to go through the torture of manual machine, courtesy me who specifically asked for an electric machine for him and he got a VIP attention in the temple by the whole management and staff.

 (Swastika on head made by sandalwood paste)

After my nephew's head was shaved, I was curious to know what is the reason for this ritual and why is it so important to do it. I asked my parents and they answered quite close to what I learned afterwards from my readings. I was lucky to have stumped through couple of articles and old documentations that explained me this old mystical tradition.

It's funny that many religions do the same ritual and they do at different times for almost similar reasons. In Hindus, Tonsuring or Mundan as Indians know, is a ritual performed on boys either when they turn 1 or 3. The belief is that shaving off the head at a Holy premise or shine by a priest or under proper guidance and per tradition, takes off all the negative thoughts and sins of the past life of the baby. After the head is shaved, baby is given a head shower by holy water (similar to Baptism in Christians) and then taken in front of God's idol in a temple to get his blessings. Not in all Hindus but some sects, the tradition is that baby's aunt (paternal aunt) gets the baby's hair tied in a red or saffron colored cloth and then she disposes them off in a Holy river. I haven't found the reason for this custom yet but this is something not everyone does.

There are various other beliefs too behind Mundan like some believes that this ritual protects the baby from evil spirits, one theory brings in some sort of scientific logic saying that the process is done at or around the age of 1 when babies start have teething and Tonsuring process helps in easing that out (I don't get it how a hair cut could relieve the teething pain) and then there is another theory that says that since it is the 1st hair cut to the scalp level, it helps in better blood circulation as it gives a massage to baby's soft head.

Anyways, whatever the belief is, this is a ritual commonly performed worldwide. In Roman Catholics, Buddhism and Jainism, the same process is done amongst adults when they become monks. Tonsuring is also performed amongst various Hindu sects at the time of father's death. Amongst Muslims, it is done (don't know if all do or not these days) when men completes Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca).

Isn't it funny that all religions at the core talk about the same thing and believes in almost the same teachings, yet they are so apart from each other.



Sharell said...

Hmmm, this is one practice I'm not too sure about the need for. Doesn't the removal of all past life sins conflict with the idea that we all have to deal with the effects of our previous actions that have created bad karma -- and they are what shape our experiences in this life. If everyone's past life sins could be removed by a head shaving, surely everyone would be having untroubled lives this time round? I'd like to know more because I guess my kid/s will have to go through mundan ceremony one day.

Poor In Java said...

Very true Sharell and I completely agree with you. I had many questions to ask to elders but I guess there are things that have just passed down from generations to generations and no one actually know the complete truth and concept. If I go by religion, most of the Indian religions (perhaps International religions too) say that sins and doings of each life is balanced in this and next life and the next life is decided based on your good vs bad so doesn't matter even if you get a shaved head, your past sins are responsible for current life, of what you are.
I am still trying to find out what this ritual is all about and whatever I will come across I would definitely share with you. I don't want your kids to go bald for no good reason :)

Ms. Neha Gandhi said...

wow... i had no idea about the significance of this tradition.
Thanks for sharing the experience and all your findings..
its a wonder that so many of us just follow and accept these things blindly without even knowing the great reasons behind them.

Sharell said...

This is what really bothers me about religion (and why I'm not religious)...people just blindly following rituals that they have no idea about and have no meaning to them! I would not like my kids to be bald, and neither do I want scary black dots drawn all over them (and kajal) to keep away the evil eye. It's all a bit of silly superstition I think. Western babies do just fine without it, and they don't end up cursed! ;-)

Poor In Java said...

Religions are complex and no one today understands them the way they were made. Even in West people believe in superstition and at times in few things way more than Indians. Like mundan and naamkaran (ceremony of naming the baby) in Indians, Christians do Baptism. Its pretty much the same. There is no harm in following and performing the rituals but it makes sense to know the reason. On the contrary i am a not superstitious but I am curious to know and follow tradition :)
I hope I can find authentic reason behind things like this.

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