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Hair of the Buddha

  • Hear of the Buddha

There are many interesting facts and hidden meaning behind Buddha statues and Buddha heads. This is because the iconography of Buddha is not typically meant for representing the Buddha in his physical form but to depict the Buddha's knowledge and awareness he acquired after attaining the enlightenment. These depictions vary from style to style and on the basis of the region of origin. One of the few characteristic that is not changed regardless of the style of the region of origin is the Buddha hair in various Buddha statues and Buddha head statues along with the ushinsha or the third eye of the Buddha.

There have been many theories and discussions about the Buddha's hair. But historically speaking, before the Shakyamuni Buddha left the riches and palace as a crown prince, he had a long, curly hair. Upon giving up the happiness of the palace, he cut his hair with knife. There are also different versions of the history on whether he actually shaved the hair completely or lost the longer portions of his hair. The statues and paintings portray the Buddha having short and tight ringlet curls. As hair is often used a metaphor for human being’s illusion or ignorance, so called the ‘weeds of ignorance’, thus, cutting the hairs implies symbolically getting rid of ignorance. The body and the mind should be kept clean in order to reach the final aim of true understanding. Thus cutting and shaving the hair represent a sort of determination to keep the body and the mind clean and then to attain enlightenment and save all beings. But there have been cases where the hair in the Buddha heads are neither shaved nor long, representing the life between the extremes of indulgence and mortification.

Historical evidence of the hair of the Buddha

In one of the little historical written evidence, a brief written account of a hunter who stumbled upon the Buddha meditating in the forest, he saw the former Shakya prince sitting beneath a tree in the middle of the forest as a bald ascetic. Seeing the bald head, he took it as a bad omen and stopped hunting for that particular day. At the same time, when he saw the Buddha, in his monk's robes, he thought the ascetic was a Brahmana. Though after a close inspection, he saw this "brahmana" missing the usual tuft of hair on the back of the head, which is generally termed as Shikha in Sanskrit. Shikhas were moreover, taken as the identity of Brahmanas. This textual evidence makes it debatable whether the Buddha was bald or he had hair.

Of course, we do not really know what the historical Buddha looked like as the first Buddha statues and Buddha heads were created only roughly around 200 years after his Mahaparinirvana. As the Buddha is portrayed with ringlets of hair to illustrated his life-story, we can say that the Buddha heads and statues we see now are not the accurate physical representation of the prince turned spiritual leader, the Buddha.

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