Google fb32x32 twitter linkedin feed-icon-32x32

With Great Hair Comes Great Responsibility

With Great Hair Comes Great Responsibility

June 16, 2010

Should I follow tradition and shave my baby's head? Will he be bald forever?

When I was six weeks old, my parents took me to Fiji, and my Dadi shaved my head at a big welcome baby gathering. My mother, despite her fear of a razor coming so close to tiny newborn scalp, understood that this was a big deal for my father and his family, and bore it as best she could. Growing up with this story, I always assumed we’d have a party for my baby’s head shaving when the time came, and giggle along as relatives drew thick kohl eyebrows or a beard on his chin, another tradition on my Dad’s side.

After I had the kidlet, it was easy to stick to this idea--he had almost nil in the hair department anyway. And the bigger his head grew, the more the little hair he did have spread out, until his scalp looked a little like a slightly moldy cheese moon. Come nightfall, if you happened to catch his head in the right light, say, beneath a street lamp, it glowed like the moon, too. Now, though, with a trip home and a welcome baby party looming, I’m not so sure I can go through with the shaving. On the way back from my morning runs, after a call to my parents, I tell myself we can’t do it because he’ll wriggle and get cut, or because he won’t know the person shaving him and throw a fit. In the dark of the night, I know it’s because now, my baby has hair.

At 11 months, Mir’s grown into himself--his head is in proportion with the rest of his body, his cheeks are firmer and less pudgy, and his chin has the same stubborn set as mine. His hair, while still a little tufted, is one large sprawl from the center of his head down the back of his neck, with small curls around his brow and ears. It’s fine, a milk chocolate brown, somewhere between my shade and Joe’s. In profile, a couple of the curls stick out, casting a shadow not unlike Astro Boy’s. When he’s asleep, I run my fingers through those curls, twining them about my finger much as I do my own. Thinking about shaving them away makes my stomach lurch, and cling to them yet tighter.

I cut my hair--I had it cut this morning, in fact. I’ve done all sorts of things to it in my twenties; as I write this, it’s a crow’s wing indigo, with almost neon highlights covering my oh-so-many white hairs. Colors always grow out; length always grows back; I’m the same person. Yet, despite the science and the experience and wanting to make family happy, I’m afraid my kidlet will be someone else if he loses his hair. You see, I’m not the only one who plays with his curls--he does, too. Sometimes it’s while he’s thinking, other times in his sleep or while nursing, but he plays with those tufty brown curls a dozen times a day. He doesn’t have a pacifier, he doesn’t suck his thumb, and he’s not yet weaned, so shaving his head would be the first time I truly took something away from him, something more than a dropped penny or a fistful of sand, something that, in the grand scheme of baby things, matters.

As a half Indian mother, I’m often torn. In my own choices, I cling to the traditions and rituals on my father’s side. There aren’t many, so it’s easier than you might think. With baby, I want to keep to tradition, to help him realize his Indian heritage, even if it’s only a quarter of his cultural makeup. Worse, I know that if another Peta asked me about the head shaving, I’d say “Why not? It’s just hair. It’ll grow back.” But something I’m realizing about motherhood, and respecting my heritage, is that it’s a lot like being Spiderman, because with great power comes great responsibility. Even when I feel pressure about a thing, self-inflicted pressure included, I have to stick with what I think works for baby, rather than what works for me. Perhaps I’m making a mountain out of a molehill. Perhaps I’m secretly (or not so secretly) worried shaving his head will leave him permanently balder than a snowman in the dead of winter. Perhaps I’m over-sensitive, and my family won’t care about shaving his head--he’s quite old for it now. Regardless, I’ve come to a decision.

We’ll shave his head--on the sides, to create a baby mohawk. That’ll leave his primary Astro Boy curls intact, meet tradition and ritual in the middle, and make him the funkiest baby on the block.


  • lo
    18.02.13 05:28 PM

    I have heard similar reasons for this ritual.

    I can't understand how karma and the laws of the world can be so easily circumvented by simply off loading karma from your last life by shaving off your hair. It kind of makes the point of law of karma pointless. You can sin in one life and then have your hair shave off in the next and start with a clean slate. Not the way my hinduism works. Sounds like a convenient shortcut somebody thought they invented a long time ago.

    I would be interested to see if there is any reference in scripture regarding this.

    Also, medically there is no evidence that shaving hair at any age makes it thicker. It looks thicker but is actually the same thickness in reality. The same in adults - shaving does not increase hairgrowth. That happens anyway with age.
    13.01.12 09:19 PM
    Well said SAVITA.

    I will add another dimension to this. What savita said in her post is the main reason behind why hindus shave babies hair.

    Hindus also believes that a soul carries burden of back/past life, before it's given new body again, and only thing that connects to the back life is the hair it comes with, when the soul comes with new body again. So to break this connection, hindus must shave babies hair to release the new born with the burden from the past.

    Now that baby is part of your family unit, you as a person must make sure that it does not carry any weight / burden , and also it's got nothing to do with it's previous life now that's part of yours and it's actions that's resulted in new birth. Thus the hair shaving ritual.

    This is the most important ritual in hindus, in terms of birth. On the plus side, if you don't shave babies hair, the baby will grow in to an adult with very fine and less hair on the head.

    More you shave thicker it grows and I think most ladies know about this as well.

  • Savita
    13.01.12 04:57 PM
    @ Sunita
    Because Hindus believe in reincarnation, it is said that the hair the baby is born with is the last thing it takes with it from its previous life. It's shaved so the baby can start this life with a fresh start, and is blessed in this life.
    At least, that's what my father told me!
  • Sunita Ruse
    Sunita Ruse
    24.11.11 03:06 AM
    Does anyone know WHY Hindus started shaving babies' heads? My husband wants to understand the significance of the practice and I cannot find any answers.
  • Gori Girl
    Gori Girl
    24.06.10 12:36 AM
    My boy only had one curl, at the base of his neck. I loved that curl. But he hates having his hair washed, so I invested in a set of clippers and buzz him a few times a year. He hates it but at least he doesn't scream and try to crawl away anymore, and after it's over, his head feels so soft and bristly, I love to rub it. It's easier to keep clean -- just pass a damp washcloth over it and no more tantrums from water in the eyes.

    It's easier to do to your second kid. I nearly cried the first time I cut my daughter's hair.

    I can't imagine shaving it with a sharp razor though. That's scary. I don't know if I could go through with it either.
  • Peta Jinnath Andersen
    Peta Jinnath Andersen
    16.06.10 09:20 PM
    @Jayanth - I'd shave my own head if it were called for without too much thought--I've cut all mine off for charity a couple of times. To me, hair just seems like a big decision, one he should get to make himself. Of course, if kids were to make all their own style and fashion decisions, it might feel a little too like Halloween...

    I notice you have a nice full head f hair in your pic! ;)
  • Jayanth Tadinada
    Jayanth Tadinada
    16.06.10 08:30 PM
    mohawk sounds cool... shaving the head is no big deal... thousands of us everyday get it done at Tirupati and other pilgrimages :)

Leave a comment