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Did Indian men always twirl their moustaches?

Manoshi Bhattacharya
Manoshi BhattacharyaJun 15, 2016 | 21:18

Did Indian men always twirl their moustaches?

Were moustaches fashionable in the ancient world? Amongst Indians, Greeks, Romans and Egyptians both mortals and gods were by and large clean shaven.

The notable exceptions were the big daddies. Notice the similarities amongst the ancient faiths of the world.

Egyptian gods kept beards but no moustaches.

osiris_061516085119.jpg
Egypt's Osiris.

Indian Gods who preferred the hirsute look kept both moustaches and beards.

varuna_061516085242.jpg
Varuna - the god of the oceans.

Varuna the god of the oceans, however, is clean shaven. Mesopotamian gods sported facial hair.

mesop_061516085319.jpg
Beard-eye's view of the Mesopotamians.

The rest of the gods were all clean shaven. The world of mortals had different rules for facial hair.

Alexander-the Great modelled himself after the clean shaven youthful Apollo as did most of the caesars of Rome. Few modelled themselves after the father figure - Jupiter.

The pharaohs of Egypt and the emperors of Persia followed the trend set by their gods. Pharaohs wore beards but were otherwise clean shaven.

The earliest clue in India comes from the figure of the bearded priest of Mohenjodaro.

harappa_061516090713.jpg
The priest of Mohenjodaro.

The figure has a designer beard (either plaited or coloured in streaks), but NO moustache.

The upper lip is shaved and a short combed beard frames the face.1

The Indus Valley Civilisation carried out a brisk trade with Mesopotamia and would have well been aware of the facial hair styles fancied abroad. This style appears to be uniquely Indian.

From the accounts of the earliest eyewitnesses, Alexander the Great's men, we know a fair bit about the facial hair style in 326 BCE. It was the same as that of the priest king of Mohenjodaro.

They frequently comb, but seldom cut, the hair of their head. The beard of the chin they never cut at all, but they shave off the hair from the rest of the face, so that it looks polished - a fashion statement that existed well before the Amish and the Salafist Muslims claimed it as a signature style. The beards were dyed with a variety of colours.2

Think, do I dare, pink, green, blue and yellow striped beards! Not just the henna coloured beards seen today.

Emperors Chandragupta Maurya and Ashoka-the Great,who lived in this period of time, may well have continued to look like the priest king of Mohenjodaro.

Can we dare conjecture that they drew their bloodline from the people of the Indus Valley Civilization? Given that there was a close relationship with Persia and trade with Egypt, the signature style first established in Mohenjodaro remained the signature style of the Mauryan empire.

Did the wearing of facial hair aid intensive thinking?  Greek intellectuals would certainly think so.

Though Cicero and Seneca would perhaps beg to differ. But then they were Roman statesmen as well.

The pursuit of philosophy occupied the last two stages of life for Indians during which time facial hair was allowed to grow unfettered.

Hiuen Tsang, the Chinese monk who came to visit in the 7th Century notes that some of the men cut off their moustaches…3 Meaning some didn't.

By 1030 AD, Al Biruni documents that Indians divide the moustache into single plaits in order to preserve it4.

Beards and moustaches have continued to follow the dictates of history.

The Rajputs of Chittaurgarh and Udaipur leave their beards untouched as a sign of depression since the days of Maharana Pratap who would not acknowledge the supremacy of Emperor Akbar.

The Rathores of Jodhpur celebrated the death of Emperor Aurungzeb by shaving off their facial hair. Maharaja Ajit announced a shaving allowance to better distinguish his men from the Muslims. The faces of Rathores have sported no beards ever since.5

Moustaches were symbolical of a warrior's pride and honour.

The story goes that Emperor Akbar, who was influenced by Hindu thought in more ways than one, asked the members of his court to shave their moustaches as a sign of mourning for Empress Jodhabai had passed away.

rathores_061516085554.jpg
Maharana Arvind Singh of Mewar.

The royal barbers were instructed accordingly and they made their rounds of all living accommodations in the city of Agra.

But when they reached the Hadarao's palace they were chased out. Rao Bhoj's enemies carried the tale to Akbar. Flying into a mighty rage Akbar ordered Bhoj be pinned to the ground and relieved of these tokens of manhood.

He may as well have asked for a tiger to be shaved for the Hadas flew at once to their swords. Wisdom dawned on Akbar and he went to visit the Bundirao in person. The rao put forward an emotional plea - this was one privilege granted to his father. Akbar bowed his head in acquiescence.

"Besides," added the Hada, "How can I, the unworthy eater of pork, accept the privilege of baring a lip in honour of the empress?"

The emperor and the rao embraced each other.

Facial hair retains its ritual significance even today. The ancient practise of shaving the hair of the head and the face when concluding the mourning period following the death of a parent or relative continues to be in vogue.

References:

1 Harrapa.com

2  M'Crindle J.W., THE INVASION OF INDIA BY ALEXANDER THE GREAT AS DESCRIBED BY ARRIAN, Q. CURTIUS, DIODOROS, PLUTARCH AND JUSTIN, ARCHIBALD CONSTABLE AND COMPANY, London, 1896

3   Beal S., SI-YU-KI. BUDDHIST RECORDS OF THE WESTERN WORLD, TRANSLATED FROM THE CHINESE OF HiUEN TSIANG (A.D. 629}, TRUBNER'S ORIENTAL SERIES , London, 1884

4 Sachau E.C., India by Al Biruni, National Book Trust India, 1983

5 Bhattacharya M., THE ROYAL RAJPUTS: Strange Tales Stranger Truths,Rupa& Co, Delhi, 2008

Last updated: June 16, 2016 | 18:15
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