Saturday, November 2, 2013

A tale of two Mundans in my family...

The incidents about which I am writing actually happened long time ago, almost nine to ten years ago in my life, it's the story of mundan of my both kids, this ceremony is very common and is known by different names in different parts of India, I should also add that it's not only common in India but also performed in various other cultures and societies under various names, it seems some how first hair cut has some unique significance in every culture. So according to tradition followed in my family a boy or a girl should get their mundan (first hair cut) done either before their 1st birthday if not then in 3rd year, I don't understand the logic behind these age restrictions but this is what they believe, no one explained me why? Because of this belief, many parents don't give haircut to their kids for first 9-10 months and then one fine fine day whole family goes to some temple and child's head is shaved or first hair cut is offered along with some rituals and prayers, normally this haircut costs way more than normal haircut, many times family has to travel to distant temples or to some rich and famous venue (like Tirupati Balaji which is very famous for this), so basically there are many other things involved in this elaborate affair, it's not just a simple hair cut.

The reason I remembered all these incidents after so many years was the discussion about mundan of my friends son on Facebook, he was debating to go for it or not. Back then, I didn't face any dilemma about this issue as I was totally against it, according to me to perform such a elaborate ceremony at temple or to travel miles to some temple just to give a haircut to child is really a bizarre idea, I don't understand the logic behind it, may be there was some good reason to do this thing (first haircut) this way 100s of year ago but I don't see any reason to do this now. Why to spend so much money and effort for the thing which can be performed with professional help at any saloon?

So for my both kids before their first birthday this issue came up for discussion, my daughter had very thick and beautiful hair that time, she looked adorable (as all kids look at that age), I registered my protest against shaving her head because I thought it was totally unnecessary. People give all kinds of reason to perform mundan, starting from original hair (womb hair) are not good in quality, they are thin, so if you shave the head of kid he/she is supposed to get nice and thick new hair, there is no scientific backing to this theory but may be in some cases it works, there are some other reasons like womb hair are associated with undesirable traits from past lives, etc. But major question was, why to go to some temple just for a simple hair cut and waste so much time and money? Why can't we do it in some saloon? But the hold of some traditions or rituals on people's mind is so strong that they are scared even to think about an alternative or more logical way, I have seen this attitude in many cases and this is one of them. But the problem was my wife wanted to do mundan for her, and as a parent she has equal say in what decision we take about our kids. I can express my opinion, register my protest in strongest possible ways, argue over it, stand my ground but I cannot force my views on my wife or on anyone. If I start forcing my opinion on others then there won't be any difference between me and many others who force these so called traditions and rituals in  name of culture, religion or God. So there was a debate and heated discussion about this issue and everyone came to know my opposition to this ritual, I don't think it was surprise to anyone in my family but I guess they were thinking that it's easy to talk about reform and change, many people do that but when it comes to their own kid or own family people compromise because of so many reasons the major one is to avoid unpleasant scenes or not to hurt anyone in their own family. I find this reason really strange because people who don't hesitate to use strongest possible words to criticize or question many things when others do them, like excessive spending on marriage, following some superstitions like this one, or role of women in family, etc. but when their own family does these things then somehow they find some reason to defend, some excuse or even justify these actions. So my family was somewhat surprised that I am putting on such a resistance to spoil such a important ceremony for my own daughter. To cut long story short, even after all this mundan happened, I didn't attend the ceremony, I don't regret at all missing the ceremony but I do regret somewhat that I failed to convince my own family not to perform this stupid ritual, but failures like these are part of battle I am fighting.

Second time similar thing happened in my son's case, but this time I was not in India, but everyone knew my opposition for this ritual, but it was easy for everyone this time as I was not physically present there, in my son's case it was done twice within a month (again without any logic and reason), one in Mumbai and one in Balaji- the famous Tirupati temple where everyday thousands of people go to shave their head, they offer their hair to God, I don't know why that God needs so many hair from so many people but I know many people who go there every year and shave their head. My kids still ask the question why this thing was done to them to all who were involved in this ritual but they didn't get any satisfactory answer till date, only answer they get is, this is part of our tradition and everyone does it so we also do, it was even done to your father, but this explanation is far from satisfactory. At least they think that there is no any sensible rational behind this ritual so they will try not to do this with their kids. So this was the story of two mundans in my family.

According to me this ritual is one of many traditions and rituals which people follow blindly (a superstition), they don't even think whether there is any reason or logic behind this, just follow blindly. I personally can't do this, ignorance might be a bliss for many but for me it's not an option, I don't believe in forcing my opinion but that doesn't mean I don't express them, so I express my disagreement whenever I face these issues in my family or somewhere else, and try not to attend these ceremonies. Many people (even who can't afford) spend lot of time and money for these things but same people don't have time or money for community service or charity, this is particularly sad in a country like India where there is strong feeling for following culture and traditions but not that much for doing charity and community service. So the mundans still happen but I hope this tradition will end soon, this will also save lot of time and money for many. I hope more and more people will choose to follow more sensible path rather than usual path.

Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic.

[Copyright : Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing]

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12 comments:

  1. Kids cross their fingers, or do touch wood, or hold their breathe while near cemetery, tradition is same, so I won't have any difficulty explaining my kid frankly speaking, but I just can not explain it to myself and that's the reason I am not performing it. I am one of those who criticize many rituals, and that's the only reason I am not performing it, I believe in starting change from home

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    1. change should start from self...or from our own home.and then it will spread in society...personal superstitions are different than social ones...if I feel that some t-shirt or shoe is lucky for me it's different thing as I am not forcing anything on anyone, I do this just to boost my self confidence without harming anyone or torturing or discriminating anyone...social ones are more dangerous and harmful than personal ones...

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  2. Such ceremonies do not deserve approval (unless they have some reason or logic attached to them). And then, performing such ceremonies in pomp and celebration is way too much. A mundan, on the face of it, seems more of a private affair. However, we are just too much accustomed to celebrating private events in public. And when it comes to celebrating them in temples, or for that matter involves priests, it only smells strongly of the dominance that the priestly class holds on the society. I must congratulate you firstly for categorically expressing your disapproval of such an act to your family and relations. I must also congratulate you for showing the courage not to attend such a ceremony especially when it is of your own offspring. Many a times, the stiffest resistance to reforms comes from within our own families. And this is the true test of a reformer.

    Even I am at a loss understand as to how this ritual of mundan started and, more importantly, why. As you have said that the mundan ceremony is also performed in several other cultures and societies, could you please let me know a few of these? May be their traditions and rituals could give some clue as to why the ceremony is performed at all.

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    1. Thanks for your comment. Please check following link for the more information about the significance of first haircut in various cultures (link is also there in Link section on post),

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_haircut

      The only reason I can think of about this ritual is hygiene, because of warm and humid climate of many parts of India (specially in summer and monsoon) may be there were high chances for young kids to get some skin infection, lice etc. these things are specially bad for young kids as it affects their overall health, normally newborn kinds grow enough hair on their head by 9-10 months so this ritual was recommended at that age so that it will help parents to maintain their kids personal hygiene. It's easy to shave kids head rather than giving a proper hair cut as its fast but at the same time more dangerous because of involvement of sharp tools, but scissors are also equally dangerous, so may be shaving head was considered as more convenient than just giving a hair cut. In that era, every ritual no matter for what is is (even for personal hygiene) was linked to religion and God so that people follow it strictly, so maybe this one is also one of them. Apart from this I don't see any other valid reason, but in era of baby soaps and shampoos, etc. it's not required and even if it is no need to do it in a way people do it (in temples, with priests). Reform always start from ourself and our own family first, there will be resistance and difficulties but we all know that this is not going to be easy.

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  3. Hi , Our families doest allowed us to cut my son' hair before he is 2 years. They said u come india after he is 2 years then we can do tonsure. We have visited india when he was about to complete 2 year but hasnt completed so they didnt perform mundan and we came back . Now they saying to come back to india again to do mundan before he completes 3 years. It is not possible to go India so frequently as we are working. Cant get leaves so easily. Also I dont see any logic spending so much money in travelling in flights just to do mundan in our temple. Now they are saying wait untill he turns 5 years if you cant come this year.Oh My god. I have waited till now, cant wait anymore. Then they says some Superstitions things which doesnt seems logical to me but as a mother I m scared of the myths they have told me. I am in confusion like what to do. Can you please share your exp when you have done tonsure without going india.

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    1. The restriction of age (odd numbers or even in some cases) to carry out this particular ceremony is very common, many people follow it and many just don't care. If you have to perform this ritual you can get it done in many temples outside India also, they might have different protocols or get a normal hair cut and perform mundan as per your convenience. You can get tonsure done at any hair cutting shop, or even at home (without using blade). Superstitions flourish mainly because of fear of unknown, we need to overcome that fear to fight superstitions but if you can't then look for best possible scenario which suits your needs.

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  4. I'm in the same situation. I am a sikh woman and my husband is a Hindu . He wants our future child to have a mundan and I am against it. I told him we can cut hair on the first bday but not shave the hair completely , but he is adamant. I told him nothing that drastic can be done without BOTH parents agreeing. You cannot shove your rituals down someone else's throat and expect them to respect you. I told him if he doesn't agree to my compromise , then too bad. But complete shaven mundan is out of the question. There is no rhyme or reason to thid ritual. I never had a mundan obviously because we are sardars, so does that mean my life is totally ruined because I never got rid of this "impure" hair they speak of?? It's laughable ...

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    1. I understand your situation in this case. This ritual has no significance in today's world but many people still stick to it because of age old beliefs. They follow it without any rational or logic. Anything doesn't automatically becomes right if it is followed for centuries, there are many customs which got abandoned after 1000s of years of practice. I hope you both find some acceptable solution for this issue as it is not worth to strain relationship for such trivial issue. Thanks a lot for sharing your views on this.

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  5. Same case here and I am happy that my journey is complete here to see you such person having great thought.

    My family is pressing hard to me to arrange mundan ceremony within year 1300 k.m. away from my home, but I don't have the situation to perform the same within year. I suggested them to perform the same after year when my current situation will change.

    I need to mention here that I don't have wish to perform such costly ritual when there is also no scientific reason .Why can't we perform this ritual in 2nd year??

    I think people now should think scientifically when we are in 21st century and surrounded By educated society.

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    1. I understand your situation Anil, many times logic and rational is totally absent when people talk and think about traditions and rituals. Our generation need to bring some sense in all these things so that if at all these things continue they have some rational mindset associated with it. Thanks a lot for sharing your experience.

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  6. Hi, as parent of twins, one boy one girl, me and my partner are in a dilemma. My family believe both boy and girl should have a mundan for reasons apparently written in the vedas. Cleansing spirits, removing memory or bad learning from previour life etc etc. My partners family believe only the boy has a mundan ceremony this is based more on family culture and ritual.

    Now we are at completely at conflict over this, one side is a logical argument about Hinduism and vedas, the other is an emotional argument about family values and beliefs.

    How do we come to a compromise? Not doing a mundan for both would not agree with both of us. Doing for just the boy would be conflict with my families regious beleifs.

    Keeping myself and genders anonymous to avoid bias in the opinion.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your issue on this forum. If you want to do the mundan ritual, it is better to do it for both kids, gender should not be the issue. Why should gender matter in this case? Boy or a girl, both are your children and they deserve the same treatment, any culture and society would appreciate gender equality and our generation should start practicing it.
      Now, it will be a test of your skills and diplomacy how you convey this message to the party who doesn't agree with it. There is no universal solution which can work in all cases, unfortunately there is no 'a master key,' so you need to find your own method, depending on your equations with your in-laws. It's not a easy task, but also not an impossible one, we can keep practicing rituals and traditions by modifying them, there is nothing wrong in it. All the very best.

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