The first haircut

The first haircut is quite an important thing in many world cultures and religions. It is treated as one form of rite of passage.

In Mongolia children get their first haircut when they are between 2 and 6 years old. According to lunar calendar boys do it in their even year and girls in their odd year.

Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish boys have their first haircut when they are 3 years old. In Yiddish this ceremony is called the "upsherenish" or "upsherin" (shear off). In Hebrew people call it "halaqah" (smoothing). The child's side locks or "payot" are traditionally left intact.

For the members of Hasidic community, the upsherin is the event that also means the start of the formal educational system and the beginning of Torah study for the male child. Boys now wear a "yarmulke" and "tzitzis".

Yarmulke cap
Yarmulke cap

Yarmulke or kippah (kappel) is thin, a bit rounded skull cap traditionally worn by Jewish men. In some Conservative and Reform communities it is also worn by women. The cap is a symbol of respect for God.

Tzitzis or tzitzit are "fringes" or "tassels" worn by observant Jews on the corners of four-cornered garments, including the "tallit" (prayer shawl). They are worn only by men.

Tallit prayer shawl
Tallit prayer shawl

Many non-Hasidic and non-Orthodox families also observe the tradition of cutting the son's hair for the first time when he is three years old.

Some boys in Israel get their first haircut on the holiday called "Lag Ba'omer". The event is held in the tomb of Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai located in the town of Meron.

In Turkmenistan a child's first haircut is performed by mother's older brother or, if she does not have one, by another male relative. The ritual is believed to provide a protection for the child. The first haircut is done on a child's first birthday.

Exceptions are situations where a younger sibling has died or mother has recently suffered a miscarriage. Then everything is delayed until the birth of next child. Mother traditionally puts some hair of her older child to the garment of her baby.

In Hinduism it is believed that there is a connection between the hair from birth and bad habits from past lives. There is a ceremony called "Mundan" or "Choodakarana" ("Chadakarana") or "Chaula". It is a rite or "saṃskāra" when babies get their first haircut.

It is done when the child is 1 or 3 years old. The hair is shaved. But sometimes not completely. The "shikha" (also known as "choti" or "bodi") is a tuft at the crown of the head. That hair is left as it is believed that the shikha protects the brain.

Some believe that the Mundan ensures a long life, better future and also protects the child from the evil eye. The Mundan is regarded as an act of cleansing for both body and soul. There are also beliefs that this ceremony eases troubles associated with headache, pains when child gets first teeth etc.

Mundan rite
Mundan rite

What is the procedure during the Mundan? The priest or sometimes the father performs it. The mother sits with her child facing west of the sacred fire. The priest chants and shaves off part of child's head. The rest is shaved by a special barber.

After the shaving is done the head is washed with holy water ("Gangajal") and a paste of turmeric and sandalwood is applied. The hair that was shaved off is offered to gods or to the holy river like for example Ganges or Ganga

Some decide to perform the Mundan on the banks of the Ganges river. Many go to the famous pilgrimage city of Rishikesh (Hrishikesh) in the Indian state of Uttarakhand located in the north of the country. The special Mundan ceremony or "chadakarana sanskara" is performed there.

In the ceremony trained priests, "acharyas" and "rishikumars" chant Vedic mantras and prayers. The hair is offered to the holy Ganges river. The child and her or his family perform a "yagna" ceremony and the "Ganga Aarti". Ganga Aarti is a ritual worshipping the Ganges or Ganga river. Yagna or Yajña is a ritual of sacrifice performed to please the gods or to express certain personal wishes.

Some Sikhs perform a similar ceremony. It is called "kesi dahi". It is done by putting curd in the hair of the newborn baby boy.

People from the Indian Minicoy or Maliku island have a ceremony called "boabeylun". A baby's head is shaved and the hair is weighed. Then the same weight but in gold or silver is given to the poor.

Kashmiri Muslim babies get their first haircut in the Makhdoon Sahib shrine. It is believed that the haircut done there secures a blessing from the 16th century Muslim Sufi saint Makhdoon Sahib.

In China the hair is cut for the first time when the baby is one month old. Only the hair at the top of the crown is left. The hair that was cut is tied with red string and saved.

The "Cukur jambul" or "Berendoi" is the first haircut ceremony in Malaysia. It is performed at the end of mother's confinement period or "pantang." The pantang lasts between 40 and 44 days. The ceremony is often organized in grandparents' house. Cukur jambul starts in the morning with reading of the Qur’an or the "marhaban" prayers.

Cukur jambul
Cukur jambul ceremony

After that mother or father carries the baby from person to person. Each of them will snip off some hair. People who do this are usually baby's grandparents, local elders, religious leaders and members of the marhaban group. Sometimes these people give the baby little bit of money or some present. The hair is then put in a bowl of water or coconut that was carved to look as kind of bowl. These bowls, scissors, turmeric leaves ("daun kunyit"), flower bouqet, honey and dates are carried on the special plate called "dulang."

There are situations where the hair is weighed. The parents then give the weight in gold or its equivalent in money to the poor. After the ceremony the hair is buried. The burial is ritually done in front of close family. During burial the "marhaban" or "berzanji" prayers are recited. In the past guests present at the ceremony used to get the "Malay bunga telur" or hard boiled egg placed within a flower. Nowadays guests get little presents like some sweets placed in a lovely box.

People in Poland have a tradition held during the first haircut which is called "postrzyżyny". Nowadays it is quite rare. The first haircut was done by the boy's father when the boy was between 7 and 10 years old. Until that age mother had a dominant role in his life. So, the ritual also meant end of being treated as a child. The boy then got one more name, usually the third one. He entered the world of adults.