Kesa-vinyas or Hairstyles in Indian art- a photo exhibition by the ASI (2015)

My two bits as Introduction

Hair is an important aspect of a person as well as that of an image or a murti. It gives it an individuality and adds to the personality or character of that person or image. The Chitrasutra of Vishnudharmottara purana names six different types of hairstyles: Kuntala (loose flowing hair), Dakshinavarta (hair curled towards the right); Taranga (wavy hair); Simha kesara (lion like mane); vardhara (parted) and jatatasara (matted). Beautifying hair in various ways is innate to human nature and Kesa-vinyas has always been an integral part of Indian art, starting from the proto-historic era (Harappan culture/ Sindhu-Saraswati civilisation).

warrior with the perfect hairstyle
beautifully coiffured hair

The Vedic texts abound in citing various types of hairstyles, thus depicting how people have always given importance to coiffures. As we see in the ASI exhibition photos, people from different eras have always dressed their hairs in various styles, and the Vedic texts merely show us that their lifestyles were no exception. The Vedic texts frequently use words like opasa , kaparda, sikhanda, kesa, kurira, pulasti, stuka, sikha, kumba, etc. From these texts it is very clear that hair-styling was prevalent among both men and women. As for example, in the Opasa style we find men gathering up their hair on top like a topknot while leaving it loose enough to give it a dome or a floppy cap like look. As per the Vedic texts, Indra was fond of this Opasa hair style. Women when donning the Opasa hairstyle, however would make it appear like a covered roof of a house or a thatched net. Another hairstyle, Kaparda, was also seen among both men and women. In men the pleated, braided, or matted hair was spirally coiled and arranged at different angles on top of the head. This style as per Vedic texts was associated with Rudra and Pushan who coiled their hair into a spiral conch shell like shape. This hairstyle is still donned by many Shaivite devotees. In women, however the Kaparda style would have most likely formed a crown like coiffure, with four kapardas like altar corners being in fashion at that time among young ladies.

Shiva with his matted curls and a tied top knot- Gupta period

The Sathpatha Brahmana and Asvalayana grhyasutra lay stress on a top knot like hairstyle, known as sikha , which depicted mourning. Vedic Kalpa sutras mention hairstyles, which possibly could be associated with coiffures maintained by different families based on their familial traditions and customs . The Grhyasutras give precise directions on how to arrange the hair of a child. Panini in his book Ashtadhyayi, talks of a cultured citizen, where he mentions kesa vesha as part of a well attired citizen. Kautilya in his book Arthashashtra also describes hair-styling adopted by the ascetics, though he doesn’t mention hair-styling of the royalty, nobility, or the common people (ref: Hair Styles in Ancient India by K. Krishna Murthy, 1982).

braided hairstyle done up in a bun still seen today.

Besides these, we come across the style kesabandha, which is associated with to devi Sarasvati’s hair donning style among the deities, and was used by queens of adhirajas among the mortal beings. The hair- style kuntala associated with devi Lakshmi, and was also popularly seen among the queens of adhirajas, narendras, and emperors. The wives of governors of small provinces were required to don their hair in a style known as dhammilla, which was an elaborate coiffure comprising of flowers, jewels, and pearls. The women who carried torches before a king and the wives of the king’s swordsmen were to don their hair in a knot in a way known as alaka -chudaka. These hair knots were bound by flower wreaths (pushpatta) or leaf wreaths called patra patta or jeweled bands known as ratna patta (TAG Rao, 1914)

A pdf of the exhibition brochure:


2 Comments Add yours

    1. moni1706 says:

      Thank you


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