What’s HAIR got to do with it?

The Pretty Manali Lady in Dark glasses. (sanjay austa austa)

As a social custom Himachali women wear dhatus whenever they visit their ancestral village in Himachal

What is it about the female’s hair that makes the male of  the human species get so wild and crazy? Going by the Islamic culture this is  one of the main reasons why girls are enjoined to cover their head.  But its not just a phenomenon of Islamic societies alone.  When the debate first erupted after France banned the burka in public places, I realized it was a belief more closer home than I  realized.

In Himachal where I come from, women esp. married women are expected to cover their heads too.  The idea is the same. Men should not see the hair. So women wear dhatus and it has now become an integral part of the traditional Himachali dress. But in the case of Himachal this tradition applies only to the rural areas.  When Himachali women go to a big town like Shimla the dhatu comes off and they let their hair down literally.

Offering fire at the Karni Mata temple is said to be auspicious. The ladies stood by the railings not too confident of entered the rat-infected temple alter. (sanjay austa sanjayausta@gmail.)

Rajasthani women in ghunghat at the Karni Mata or `Rat’ temple Bikaner, Rajasthan

The idea is the same in Rajasthan where the women wear the ghunghat in the presence of  men.  And I am sure there are many such parallers from  different cultures around the world.

But regardless of the culture the central belief is the same. That  men somehow get hot and bothered when they  see a woman with uncovered head. I would really like to meet a guy who gets nasty ideas merely looking at a girl’s uncovered head. If such guys do exist then I think they have a fetish.  Like there are guys with the foot fetish or hand fetish or toe fetish- well the list can go on.

So where did this idea come from?  In  centuries past, women went about covered anyway- except in many parts of Pre-British India where it was perfectly normal for women to go about topless.  The head was the only uncovered part of the body. So if an injunction had to be made it had to be about  covering the head.

I was at the Dead Sea shooting the usual drab stuff you shoot at a beach when these gorgeous Jordanian girls approached me and asked if I could shoot them as well. They said they were of Palestinian origin and wanted to get shot with their homeland in the background. From the Jordanian coast you can see the Palestinian cities clearly and for the Palestinian Jordanian seeing the Palestinian city- lights is always an emotional moment. (sanjay austa sanjayausta@gmail.)

Many Jordanian girls choose not to wear the hijab. Those that do ,wear it over their normal western wear.

But this has rather bizarre consequences in the modern world. In Tanzania, Jordan and Malaysia,  the three predominantly Islamic countries I had the opportunity to travel in,  I saw girls in figure hugging  jeans and low-cut sleeveless tops wearing a hijab.  To assume that men get turned on by their hidden- hair and not by their  figures, would not only be naïve but also a gross ignorance of male psychology.   Wearing a hijab for these girls , I think, is more of a  tradition,  like it is for the dhatu donning girls in my hometown.  But then where does this leave the ancient belief?

I turned a bend and came across this young muslim girl and this cat below her both fixing me with the same expression. (sanjay austa austa)

A young girl in head-scarf sitting it out with her cat on Zanzibar Island, Africa.

16 Responses to “What’s HAIR got to do with it?”

  1. Saudia Teja says:

    interesting point, Sanjay, but like you and I had once discussed this…..SOME women are forced to wear the hijab due to parental/societal pressures, i hardly think it’s t attract men and of course there are SOME men who totally would go for the coveered head alone….no one is perfect, right?

    • sanjay austa says:

      Hi Saudia. I remember our conversation. Yes i agree some women are forced to wear the hijab just as they are forced to wear the ghunghat or dhatu or any other piece of clothing in any other culture. I was trying to explore that perhaps our different cultures , traditions etc have more in common than we are willing to acknowledge.

  2. preetjyot says:

    I have solid n authentic answer.. because in Sikhism, their is also strict rule for ladies to cover their head…(now a days not usually followed by society).. in Sikhism it believed that God is omnipresent and we cover our heads while their at any temples and gurudwaras.. so it believed whole earth is as holy as temple and his presence is similar,,, n asked both sikh men and women to cover their head………….

    • sanjay austa says:

      Hi Preetjyot,
      Thanks for sharing your views. However you did not explain why women in Sikhism are supposed to cover the hair? What is the reason behind this ?

  3. Neelima says:

    I think its interesting that there are communities where men cover their head – turbans – rajasthan, punjab, Haryana (and in a most elaborate and attention getting manner).So some communities cover their heads out of respect to religion as a sign of manliness… Is it culturally considered rude for women to not cover their head in the presence of a man. So what I am saying is that it is probably not that men would go nuts upon a glimpse of the hair but that its like a more respect related rule – Which of course has elements of subjugation and gender power. (like dont put your hands in your pocket and chew gum in the presence of a retired Army man 🙂

    • sanjay austa says:

      Neelima thanks for your comment. Thats a very interesting point indeed. Turbaned men esp of states like Rajasthan are a very interesting breed indeed. However as far as women are concerned , i don’t think its so much religion as culture that determines the tradition. Many women in Islamic societies cover their head for this specific reason only. So to in Himachal. Men other than their immediate family members and husbands are not allowed to see their hair.

  4. fatima says:

    islam says to cover ur body along with ur heads n in islam we are ordered to wear a loose dress in which no part of our body is prominent along with wearing a veil covering our head and some part of face n it gives piousity to a women, islam gives much respect to a women by not making them a public property

  5. Richa says:

    Sanjay, i feel that middle east and north africa has an interesting dichotomous situation where wearing or not wearing a headgear is symbolic to what they represent. Remember meeting this married woman in Egypt who was from a fairly liberal family. She started wearing Hijab ten years after her marriage and it was completely her choice. Egypt overall witnessed growth in woman wearing hijab and without any enforcement. ( post 9-11) Wearing it reflected close affinity to Islam. So yes, even with their modern outfit we see lot of woman it in countries like egypt, jordan, syria.

    and on the other hand we have saudi arabia where the more liberal Jeddah woman ( compared to Riyadh) although continue to wear their abaya but have done away with naqab.. symbolising their defiance to the orthodox rules and regulation. ..

    • sanjay austa says:

      Thanks for the enlightening info on the head-gears. In my own experience also I have seen that most Muslim women have begun wearing the hijab post-9/ 11 to symbolically express their solidarity with Islam .

  6. anil says:

    i like you photography of women with dathu, i tooo from himachal pradesh, from upper shimla where women wears dathus and you said rightly that dathus comes off when they go to shimla otherwise at village they keep there head covered wiht dathus. Dathu has its own grace but it is very sad, that new girls hates wearing this. Your sir names suggest that u too from upper shimla taaa.

  7. manoffireandlight says:

    Hi there, I believe that in Arabian countries in medieval times (and before) it was common for prostitutes to have their hair and face uncovered and in order to distinguish chaste or married women laws were passed to ensure that men knew who to proposition. However, nowadays in many Arabian countries prostitution is illegal (though it still goes on), but the laws are applied to all women, because the dominant form of Islam in these countries is the puritanical Salafism.

    I may be wrong, but that is as far as I know about the sum of it.

    • sanjay austa says:

      Hi, I am not really sure about this at all about Arabian countries. I haven’t read it anywhere either. Do you have a source to what you are saying? A book perhaps or article.? Would be interesting to know.

      • Indyeah girl says:

        you’re right that women in Himachal wear “Dhatu” or headscarves. but it is also interesting that this tradition has no mention in Hindu scriptures anywhere and that the practice of wearing head scarf is only limited to Shimla.

        women from Kangra and the places nearer to Punjab do not wear it. women from higher up places like Kullu, Lahaul spiti wear hats, and not scarves.

        I think this could be an influence from Kashmir, as they had a large Muslim population and their women wear it too. it’s nearer to Himachal also.

        and in Himachal, traditionally, women were not the only one to wear a head cover. men wear hats too. plus, women from Shimla work in the farms and are not restricted to their home. I earlier used to think that working in the farms was the reason for them to wear head scarf, but now I think it’s a mughal influence.

        the purdah system in Rajasthan is also said to be practiced by the Rajput royals there as the Mughals often used to carry the women and children as spoils of war.

        for there is absolute proofs from our religious sciptures, mythological scriptures and early practices that the head covering did not exist before the invasion by various Muslim rulers.

  8. nsingh says:

    In many cultures, the head is considered as being symbolic of pride – that is why in many Asian cultures, to bow ones head signifies humility & respect towards our interlocutor/God. Consequently, the hair is symbolic of beauty and vanity as it changes the way one looks,that is why Hindu priests and Buddhist monks shave their hair (I can presume this is also the reason for other religions to cover their hair). To keep one’s hair covered in public (outside of family) signified modesty – in some societies of India, this was followed by both men as well as women (turbans for men). But as is the case with ALL cultures of the world, society’s rules are more rigorously applied to women than men. So to talk about today, society still expects women to follow & keep one’s “tradition” alive, while rules are more lax for men who follow fashion without much opposition from society – as we see, many a time these “rules” are imposed on women with the argument that women “require” it to be safe from men, rather than the more uncomfortable choice of educating men not to impose themselves on women. Also, I’d like to point out specifically for the pardah system in India, this did not traditionally exist for women in the Hindu culture, it came into existence during the Mughal invasions. Women in south India cover their heads, since this part of the country faced much less ravage when compared to the north.

  9. nsingh says:

    *** correction to my last sentence above – women in south India do *not cover their heads..

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