Hair-shaving in India: the Religious Tonsuring…

In Hinduism the tonsure ceremony, during which a child’s hair is shaved for the first time, is performed at the age of two. Hindus practise tonsure to free the child from the bonds of the last birth and as a symbol of the child beginning his or her new life. Tonsure is one of three rites of passage in the life of a Hindu.

Tonsure is also practised by adults at the occasion of pilgrimage. Many of the photos on this page were taken in the city of Palani in South India, famous for the temple of Lord Murugan on top of a hill. During the festival of Thaipusam thousands of Hindus gather in Palani, setting out to visit the temple. Lord Murugan is the embodiment of god Shiva’s light and wisdom and devotees pray to him to overcome the obstacles they face, as He is the divine vanquisher of evil. Tonsure is part of the usual acts of devotion the pilgims are supposed to observe. Before they climb the steps to the temple men, children and sometimes women have their hair shaven by one of the many barbers in the streets of Palani. Some parents take the opportunity of this pilgrimage to perform the ritual tonsure to their young child.

The photographs of barbers shaving and cutting hair in the streets were taken in the city of Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, North India, near the Ganges River.