99 BC - 1699

Hair Styles in Temple Art

American Institute of Indian Studies

Symbolism of Divinity, Sensuality and Ferocity

Representation of hair plays an important role in the Indian art and architecture. For Gods, demigods, celestial beings and humans different kinds of hair styles are used.

Divine Protective goddesses are generally depicted with tightly tied hair with a crown adorning their head. Here are some of the different hair styles donned by them.

Mahcshasurmardini relief from Ramesvara with nicely tied up hair adorned with a high rising crown. Though in contemporary representations she is shown with long untied hair as marker of her rage.

Another rock relief from Andhra Pradesh of Mahisasur Mardini with tightly held back hair adorned with high multi-tier crown more like in Vaishnav style.

River goddesses are depicted with hair swept combed backwards with crown and a loose bun on one side. This is symbolic to their identity as river goddess.

Depiction of Ganga at Ellora dating to circa 500 BC. The river Goddess is depicted with curled hair adorning her forehead with a Persian cap like crown on her head.

Ganga at Mahabalipuram with a kumbhak (pitcher) hair style resembling top-knot.

River goddess Yamuna depicted on the left side standing on waves. Her hair resembles water ripples and is tied in a loose side bun falling on her shoulder.

Her hair resembles the water wave that she is standing on and quite like ripples. Her attendant on her left has similar hairstyle representing connection with water.

Different hair styles also indicate different moods. This one is a beautiful specimen of loosely coiled hair showing hair strands clearly. Loosely tied hair represents light mood.

Closer view of a beautiful specimen of loosely coiled hair showing hair strands clearly. Besides her broad smile Veenadharini female figure's hair style denotes light mood.

Amorous couple engaged in a playful fight depicting a female with her hair tied into a huge side bun.

At times Mithun or amorous couple are shown wearing same hair styles. Here the female figure is shown with hair tied neatly in a front bun probably with some kind of cloth head gear.

Untied hair is equated with sensuous invitation and thus often indecent. As a result most of the goddesses, except ferocious goddesses like Kali and amorous mithun, are shown with neatly tied hair.

Untied hair represents sensuous or playful mood of the nayika. The back view of shalabhajika yakshi sculpture with her soft curls of hair decorated with floral garlands.

This sculpture of a shalbhanjika is interesting as she is represented with short length hair which is not a commonly associated with female beauty in Indian art which is obsessed about long hair.

A shalabhanjika figure with a round crown / head gear and thick densely curled long hair falling on both sides.

Long open hair are also an identifying characteristics of angry, powerful or fierce goddesses. Here is Saptamatrika with Virbhadra and Ganesh shown with neatly combed hair tied up in a pony tail.

Ferocious goddesses like Causath Yogini, shown here, Goddess Kali, Shiva as Nataraja are also depicted with open flying hair to represent rage, anger, and destructive power.

Hair continues to play different symbolic roles in Indian cultures, especially with regard to women. In temple of Tirupati Balaji in Andhra Pradesh, women offer their hair as their ultimate offering.

Centre for Art and Archaeology, American Institute of Indian Studies
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