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What Sadhus and Sadhvis at Kumbh Told Me About Their Long and Important Dreadlocks

What Sadhus and Sadhvis at Kumbh Told Me About Their Long and Important Dreadlocks

Draped in a saffron shawl and a saffron loin cloth, one said it took him over 30 years to get his eight-foot-long dreadlocks.

Now that I've seen beauty parlours advertise the perfect dreadlocks and give advice on how to "maintain" them, I had to ask the sadhus whom I met at Kumbh about their unique hairstyles, comprising several feet long dreadlocks.

Long before I'd heard of Bob Marley, the dreadlocks of Indian sadhus had fascinated me. My photography-enthusiast dad frequented the Gangasagar mela, which is similar to the Kumbh, though much smaller. He'd tell me about how the 'jata' is integral for a sadhu. It took me a trip to the ardh-kumbh and several conversations with ash-smeared ascetics to understand why.

Draped in a saffron shawl and a saffron loin cloth, one said it took him over 30 years to get his eight-foot-long dreadlocks. They almost fit like a conical crown which was too big for his face. I wondered out loud if he could open it and he gladly unwound his locks and then again proudly put it back in place.

Another woman sadhu, from Nepal, had traveled all the way to the Sangam city Prayagraj to wash away her sins in the confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and the legendary river Saraswati. She claimed that if she didn't obey the norms of her religion, there is nothing left to live for. Her locks went past her shoulders and complemented her plump smiling face.

She claimed that the "jata" happened overnight, after a visit to a Shiva temple. A person nearby who was listening in to our conversation in the crowded bathing area was quick to comment "It's probably not real." She instantly smirked and reacted "Touch it and see, its absolutely original."

When I asked her what I'd have to do to my waist-long hair to turn it into dreadlocks, she said it'll only happen if Shiva blesses me, not otherwise. Another sadhu advised me to regularly smear ashes post rituals on my hair. One older sadhu asked me to just leave it as it is and not take any care of my hair, as God also doesn't really care about his.

It isn't like they never wash their hair or keep it in very unhygienic condition. All of them claimed to wash it regularly. They'd also keep it neatly wound up in a top-knot. The only thing they didn't do was to comb it.

Another common sight was a dome-like structure on the head made of many rudraksh. This could weigh anything between five to 20 kgs. The dome, covering the head completely, resembled the Shivling, they said.

It was then that I understood why their hairdo was so important to these religious men and women. The dreadlocks are a matter of pride and provide deep spiritual connection, as a symbol of their closeness to God. Each of them spoke about some connection with the Almighty. The longer the locks, the longer duration of devotion they symbolize.

Also, since most sadhus flaunt it, it helps them fit in and binds them together.

From the experience of fighting off frequent urges of cutting off my long wavy hair, I'd definitely admit that they require much less time and attention, which must be convenient to people in so arduous a pursuit of moksha.

first published:February 03, 2019, 12:44 IST