[An English rendering by Dr Bindu of the original Article in Kannada by
Dr SV Chamu, Former Chief Secretary, Astanga Yoga Vijnana Mandiram]
The desire to bedeck and decorate oneself is the innate nature of women. Quite naturally, lustrous, thick and ebony coloured hair is their coveted possession. Since time immemorial in our country, those dark thick tresses have been the symbol of beauty, youth and luxury of women folk. Styling of hair is of special interest to them. Our legendary poetry, sculptures and paintings show beautifully and elegantly, their pride and fascination in this regard.
There is a large segment of women who decorate and fashion their tresses in a traditional manner in the present time too. However in contrast to what has been our heritage, we do see women adopting fancy hairstyles, cuts and braids.
It makes one wonder why such changes have come about. In this day, when our sartorial preferences and styles are driven by peer pressure, increasingly hectic lifestyles and the flood of exposure to global fashion, glamour of movies and advertisements are some of the reasons why grooming oneself in the traditional manner with a triple braid has slightly gone out of favour. This is also precisely the reason we would like to dwell in depth on the sense and sensibility associated with these traditional styles.
Our traditional ways of dressing hair is not just an act of beautification but has a deep cultural and philosophical purpose attached to it. Undoubtedly, the traditional styles were designed to enhance the beauty of a woman. But along with this beauty of the mortal frame, it also helps in expressing the inner beauty of the soul - the atma soundarya which lies at the root of all beauty. While external beauty was emphasized, our ancestors were not enthusiastic about encouraging fashionable decoration that would blur or mar the beauty of the Atman. In reality, a three-partitioned braid exhibits the beauty of the subtle body that an enlightened seer is privileged to see through his penance. We would like to express in this article a brief analysis of it.
Modern science describes hair as an outgrowth from the skin. But the origin of hair is not limited to skin alone. As we all know, our mane is intimately linked to many human emotions like sorrow, fear, anger, lust etc. Although it is not obvious to us, our emotional manifestations have their effects on the way we mop up our hair as well. The manner in which the hair is done, in turn reciprocates its effect on the mind. Well combed, well-oiled hair provides calmness, joy and good spirit to the mind. Shaggy hair, on the other hand, has a very negative effect on the mind. For example, loose and unkempt hair has been considered a sign of mourning in our tradition since ancient days.
This intimate connection between hair and our being is due their linkage through the hrudaya naadi. It can be said that whatever emotion the pulse conducts - lust, anger or joy - is transmitted, like the electricity flowing through a wire, upto the hair endings. Thus our tresses, facial and body hair are an instrument for influencing the naadi gathis and achieving physical health, mental balance and spiritual calm. According to our ancients the nerves from top to toe that transmit emotions are believed to originate from two naadis called ‘ida’ and ‘pingala’.
The branches of ‘ida’ naadi innervate the left side and those of ‘pingala’ naadi innervate the right side of the body. These two naadis along with the branches and sub branches are responsible for the functioning of the entire body. They are deemed to affect dharma and adharma, paapa and punya, happiness and sorrow and all other states and experiences in life. The ups and downs of emotions that humans perpetually experience are due to these naadis and it is on these wheels that the chariot of life moves on. These two, like the two wings of life’s bird take it around in the spiritual sky. To put it in a nutshell, these naadis are responsible for activities related to ‘dharma’, ‘artha’ and ‘kaama’.
However, these right and left naadis are not the ultimate. There is something beyond it, the central naadi the root of these naadis, the most mysterious ‘sushumna naadi’ which is the root of life itself. It is also known as the jnaana naadi. It is through this naadi that a man, through meditation is able to attain realization of God, the source and the culminating Light of spirituality. On reaching this mount, the mind finds peace. A sense of relief, calm and contentment can be attained. When one loses touch with this Light, the mind gets entangled and wanders, impelled by the forces of nature. Even when one is in a seemingly healthy physical and mental state of well-being, one should not forget the source of spiritual knowledge within oneself. If he does forget, he feels a gaping void in his life and is caught in a whorl of sorrow making it chaotic. On being reunited with that Light, the mind achieves freedom.
‘Triveni’ or the triple braid is a moot symbol of this high ideal. This ideal can be followed only by those who can control their senses. Triveni is not only a reminder of a certain way of life but is also the instrument to achieve it. The triple-braid enables one to control the five senses. The hair is parted into three- left, middle and right. The left and right tresses are interwoven with the middle to create the braid. This scheme suggests a subtle message; that the aadhibhoutika (i.e artha, kaama- worldly enjoyments) and aadhi daivika (i.e dharma, control of senses, spirituality) must be maintained in proportion for a truly fulfilling life. It is then that one’s life becomes truly harmonious. When this does not happen, life is full of ups and downs; it is one of imbalance.
Triveni is not just symbolic. The tri-division of the hair is a natural extension of the three naadis ida, pingala and sushumna. Keeping them tight-bound by braiding helps one to control the mind. They enable the mind to lead a harmonious life. This style of braiding springs forth from a deep understanding of the secrets of spirituality. It is at once a skilful blend of aesthetic beauty and an instrument and symbol of harmonious spiritual life.
The credibility of this view is reinforced by another traditional explanation. ‘Triveni’ means the convergence of Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswathi in the place known as ‘Prayaga’. Speaking in the yogic language, the Ganga, Yamuna and the mysterious Saraswathi represent the ‘Ida’, ‘Pingala’ and the elusive ‘Sushumna’ naadis. It may also be noted that in the triple-braid too, only two locks are seen to be criss-crossing down the spine while third is a mystery. The physical location of the triveni (from head down to the waist on the back) down the spine correlates well with the three naadis which are said to run inside the spine or brahmadanda.
That our ancestors represented inner truths through physical means such as the decoration of hair is further illustrated by the tradition of hair parting or the ‘Baitale’. It is a norm that every married woman parts her hair in the middle. ‘Baitale’ is the separating line between the left and right hair partings. This line runs between the ‘Dwadashantha’ (above the forehead) to ‘Brahmarandhra’ (the occiput). It is also called the ‘Seemantha’. This practice of hair parting is prevalent in Hindus across our nation from the high Himalayas to the seas of the south. This line represents very closely the path to knowledge as expounded in the Aitareya upanishath that says “etadeva seemaanam vidaarya etayaadwaaraa praapadyata. Saisha vidrutirnaama dwaha tadetannaandanam. Meaning- That Atman split the separating line and emerged from this door. This gateway is called ‘Vidhruti’. This is the pathway to joy and contentment. The meaning of this is well brought out externally by Triveni.
It is for this reason that during times of auspicious rituals and worship it is advised not to let one’s hair loose. Untied and unkempt hair does not provide the right state of mind required during auspicious events. Trimming of hair and shaggy hair are the signs of a restless mind. Individuals or nations that fail to control their senses with a balanced mind will never find contentment.
Thus the practice of Triveni is rich in symbolism and is a means of achieving the spiritual knowledge in the course of our daily routine. But this scientific practice is losing its hold today due to ignorance. We are drifting from a harmonious existence to one of tumult and imbalance. We need to prevent this regression by introspecting and understanding the basis of our culture and the well-tread path taken by our ancestors. It is still not too late for change.
Sriranga Mahaaguru, the fountain-head of the Mandiram, used to say that ‘Ashtangayoga’ or the eightfold yoga has been exquisitely woven into the attires, food habits, education, art, science, routine activities etc of Bhaarateeyas. Triveni is an epitome of the same.
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