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Adjectives related to hair: bristly, brittle, bushy, curly, crinkly, flyaway, frizzy, fuzzy, glossy, lank, luxuriant, lustrous, limp, scraggly, shaggy, sleek, spiky, straight, thick, thin, wavy, wiry…….the list can go on.
Hair is precious and the subject of many conversations the world over. In several countries, across varied groups of people a child’s first hair cut or even tonsuring is an important family milestone. Tonsuring refers to cutting or shaving some or all of the hair on the scalp, most often as a symbol of religious humility or devotion. India thrives on rituals and ceremonies with several specified for newborns and children as well. Almost every community has their own set of traditions and ceremonies often steeped in religious doctrines.
One such rite of passage that is relevant to most Indian babies is the mundan ceremony or Chudakarna during which a young child’s hair is cut and shaved off the scalp entirely. There are several variables that come to the fore based on personal beliefs, family tradition, pressure from the family, and extent of religious fervour. Some of these variables include ideal age, gender, which month is selected for the mundan, auspicious day and time, whether the ceremony should be at a place of worship, at home or at a salon, and relevance of astrology.
Commonly, birth hair is said to be connected to the past life and the process of shaving the birth hair completely, signifies moving away from the past and all that may have been undesirable about it and starting afresh. In Rishikesh, along the banks of the Ganga it is not uncommon to see travellers watching the Mundana Samskara, one of the sixteen Hindu sacraments, as the ceremony is being performed. As the children have their hair cut and shaved, priests chant ancient mantras and prayers. The shaved hair is offered to the river and the child and family then perform a sacred prayer ceremony.
Eeshikka Bhagtani, a fashion designer and mum to a 14 month old son says, “The mundan ceremony has always been a part of our culture. The first mundan was done when our son was 5 months and had to do with superstition that the hair from the stomach shouldn’t be there. The older generation like my in-laws also believe that the future life will be smooth after the ceremony and that hair growth is good after shaving. All this information has been passed down by our ancestors. Honestly I think my son was born with better hair but then things change with babies all the time.”
Mira Dalvi, mother of a 3.5 year old gave us her perspective, “Being married into a Punjabi family, meant the mundan was mandatory for my son. I was ok with it considering the benefits of shaving ones hair as a child. However I kept cutting my son's hair short even before the mundan keeping in mind the extreme summer in Mumbai. During the ceremony he was alright until the close crop started which is when he started wailing. After the mundan his hair seemed
thicker but not as soft.”
In addition to the religious aspect, other notions about the ceremony are to do with beliefs that tonsuring helps the child stay cool, keeps lice at bay, wards off the evil eye, relieves teething pain, and improves hair growth to name a few. While most of these points are sincerely believed by a majority of Indians, the sad truth is that the last belief is a definite myth. As heart breaking as it may sound, shaving of hair does not increase hair growth.
A study by Lynfield and Macwilliams delved into the effect of repeated shaving on human hair and concluded that no significant difference in weight of hair was found. Marya Lanewala, founding partner Starfish Salon for kids in Bandra reiterates this when she says, “At Starfish, we do provide the mundan service for infants and toddlers. While many parents do it for religious reasons, some of them come with queries for better hair growth. We explain that it is scientifically proven that there is no correlation between mundans and better hair growth. We leave the final decision up to the parents and ensure a safe and a neat job, if they choose to go ahead with it."
According to Dr. S.D. Patwardhan M.D. (Paed) D.C.H. Child Specialist of Patwardhan Children’s Hospital, “Mundan is a nonessential act done primarily for custom reason. There is no proof that it improves the quality of new hair.”
Hair growth and the speed of growth is connected to genetics, nutrition and nerve function in that area of the skin. As hair tends to taper towards the ends, shaving at the base results in blunt ended hair that appears more obvious and is thicker than the end of the hair that has been cut. However, the base of the hair has always been the same thickness. Hair reflects a person’s health and genes. Only conditions that alter hormones, skin or the regulation of the hair cycle can make hair grow faster or thicker and not tonsuring irrespective of number of times the hair is shaved.
Whether you are considering the mundan ceremony or have no choice in the matter, as a parent of a baby or toddler the thought of exposing your child to the ceremony is scary on various levels. There are questions about hygiene, how rough or gentle the barber will be, what equipment will be used, whether the child will be upset and howl, whether your focus will be on the baby and his or her comfort or the comfort of family and friends present at the event, and also how to deal with stress that arises from having to organise a ceremony.
Many parents these days decide that they do not wish to put their child and themselves through the procedure. Shariva Naik, a French professional and mother to a two year old says, “We have never shaved our son's head. Firstly, because we don't believe in religious rituals. Secondly, it traumatises the baby. Lastly, my son had thick black hair at birth. By the time he was 5-6 months, he had lovely locks. So there was no question of shaving for improving the hair quality. On the contrary, we loved his soft curls and did not want to cut them. My entire family is very progressive and rational. No one suggested mundan.”
Dr. Mona Shah paediatrician at Shashikant Hospital and mother to two young children believes, “Mundan is a personal and community driven practice. There are no studies taught or done medically about it. I think you have to be happy with what you are blessed with. If you should decide to go ahead it with it please make sure that the barber is experienced, that the place is clean and hygienic and you must absolutely insist on a new blade. There should be no compromises on that. Also make sure baby is occupied with a song or movie or toy. If there are any cuts apply an antiseptic.”
Starfish Salon’s tips:
For a safe mundan
· Wash your baby’s hair with a mild shampoo before the mundan as greasy hair is harder to shave.
· Choose a time that suits your baby best. You should plan it when the baby is well rested and is not hungry.
· Keep a favourite book or toy handy.
· If your baby is slightly older, speak to him or her about the occasion in advance. Sudden activity in an unfamiliar environment is quiet shocking for your little one, it is best to prepare them in advance.
· Opt for a zero trimmer over a razor (blade) as it is a hundred percent safe and does the job very neatly.
· Ensure that the equipment is sterilised and the hair stylist is experienced in performing mundans.
· Clean the head well after the mundan with a soft napkin and mild powder. Give the baby a body bath if required. Make sure that all the hair is cleaned from the folds of the skin and growth lines.
· If the mundan is done by a razor, do not wash the baby’s head immediately as the skin is sensitive.
· Do not use any strong antiseptics as they tend to sting the skin. It is not necessary to apply any lotion or cream either.
For better hair growth
Wash regularly: Use a mild shampoo to clean the scalp of dirt and oil. Gentle massaging while washing the hair may also help in blood circulation of the scalp. For older children, a mild conditioner may also be used after every wash. It is very important to wash the hair after swimming to remove the chlorine. Special after-swim shampoos are available in the market for this.
Be gentle with the hair: Don't dry vigorously with the towel and avoid using hair dryers as much as possible on children's hair. Always use a wide tooth comb to detangle after wash.
Oiling: If you oil your child's hair regularly, remember to wash the oil off in a couple of hours. Massage the scalp and not necessarily the shaft. Keeping oil on for too long adversely affects the hair shaft as oil attracts dust and grime resulting in damage.
Regular trims: Trimming hair regularly is recommended in every 2-3 months for girls and as required for boys. It removes split ends and dry ends.
Food and water: Hair growth is much more related to internal factors than external. What you eat will also reflect on the quality of hair. Make sure you include food rich in protein and omega fatty acids like eggs, fish, walnuts and flax seeds in your child's diet. Carbonated drinks make hair dry and brittle; therefore ensure that your child has enough water through the day.
Following this simple but effective hair care routine will ensure healthy, shiny hair for your child and less worry for you!