Kesa-vinyas: Hairstyles in Early Indian Art - I

Archaeological Survey of India

Sculptures from the Harappan, Mauryan, Satvahana, Sunga and Kushan Periods

The photo-exhibition titled ‘Kēśa-vinyās’ highlights a kaleidoscope on coiffures in Indian art beginning from the Harappan to medieval period. Changes adopted in hair-styles during ancient times are interesting to look upon as men and women both arranged their hair in a stylised manner. Considering the wide span of this period, this exhibition presents some of the most popular and exclusive hair-styles based on literary reference and archaeological records.

This exhibition has been divided into three parts. The first part highlights exhibits from Harappan to Kushan periods.

Harappan period
The practice of hair-dressing was in-vogue among the Harappans which is evident from the antiquities unearthed at various Harappan sites viz. Mohenjo-daro,Harappa, Kalibangan, Dholavira, Rakhigarhi, Banawali, etc. The Harappans were quite interested in unique hair-styles and using combs and mirrors for the making their hair-do. The picture here shows two oval-shaped copper mirrors with a tanged-handle which have been reported from Kalibangan and Rakhigarhi.

The dancing girl of Harappan period is one of the rare examples of Indian art. An exclusive feature of this sculpture is her hair, coiled beautifully in a heavy mass falling over the right shoulder

The steatite ‘Priest King’ of Mohenjodaro is shown with elaborate clothing, ornamentation and coiffure. He has a trimmed beard and hair parted in the middle tied with a fillet on forehead

The ivory combs found from Banawali, Haryana (above) and Kalibangan, Rajasthan (below) shows that Harappans used to take special care of their looks and elaborate hair-styles

Such ivory combs might have used as hair accessory other than arranging hair neatly. The tradition is still popular among women folks

Mauryan period
The Mauryan women were very fond of hair-dressing as seen in the stone and terracotta arts. Arthasastra has mentioned that two styles of hair dressing by women were prevalent in the society, the hair arranged in braids or shaven heads. One of the exclusive examples of this period is Didarganj Yakshi. Her neatly combed hair are seen here tied beautifully forming a loop at the back. A medallion on the forehead along with strings of beads have been elegantly arranged.
Sunga period
Sunga art is characterised by simplicity and indigenous character. The sculptural art is specially associated with massive structures like stupa and its railings as at Sanchi, Bharhut, Amaravati, etc. and the rock-cut caves specially in western India, like Karla, Bhaja, Kanheri, Ajanta, etc. The women depicted in Sanchi relief in no way lagged behind in exhibiting their variety of hair-styles. The sculpture of Salabhanjika from Sanchi shown here has an elaborate hair arrangement, tied in a top fan-shaped bun in the front and open hair at the back.

The women in the Bharhut sculptures arranged their hair in various styles. This panel namely worshipping of Bodhi tree shows women with neatly tied hair with a loose knot at the back.

The upper head is decorated with a flower tiara.

Another panel from Bharhut shows a group of musicians wherein women have elaborate double braids at the back, tied with the strings of beads.

Satvahana period
Amaravati and Nagarjunakonda sculptures reveal a variety of hair-styles datable to Satavahana period. Both men and women appear in the reliefs with different kinds of hair-do. The men are generally seen in short and curly hair which gives the appearance of a wig, while women are often seen in high buns. The sculpture here is of a lady who is standing against a pillar. Her hair are tied in different loops forming a high knotted bun.

This sculpture of a dwarf yaksha from Pitalkhora has two rows of curly hair followed by a feather shaped crown.

This lady has neatly parted hair in the centre which are arranged at the back forming plaited bun embellished with strings of beads. Her forehead adorns a beautiful round medallion.

This lady from a panel of Kanganahalli has elaborately arranged hair decorated with strings of beads and a round medallion. The hair in front has been arranged in layers.

Kushana - Gandhara School
The Kushan period saw the emergence of different sculptural art traditions like Mathura and Gandhara School of Arts which spread over particular areas. The Gandhara art of north-western India had an exotic element possibly from the Greek tradition. The head of a child made in bronze is a beautiful example of Gandhara art. He is shown with wavy hair neatly arranged backwards - a popular hair-do which men still follow using hair gels and sprays.

The sculpture of Bodhisattva here with Greek features has a moustache and his hair are tied forming a coiled knot on the left. A string of beads is added to complement the layers of his hair.

Kushana - Mathura School
Mathura was a flourishing artistic centre in north India from the beginning of the Christian era up to about the seventh century CE. Apart from the Gods and Goddesses, the folk-art of Mathura is very rich and vivid in showing the hair-do. The stupa-railing pillars depict figures of Yakshis and nayikas with beautiful gestures and elaborated coiffure. A woman after bath is shown here standing and drying her hair by squeezing out water from her locks.

This head of Siva in terracotta is a typical example of Mathura art

Siva's hair are seen here as having high vertical jatas of twelve bands tied round by four bands of hair itself

Another male head from Mathura with twisted and uplifted coil of hair. Centre of the forehead has a round pile of hair followed by side flicks.

This male has a unique hair-do. His hair are arranged backward with a curve at the end forming a bob cut which is still in vogue.

A tree dryad (or Asoka Dohad) from Mathura is holding a branch of Asoka tree.

Her hair are tied neatly in a high coiled bun with the strings of beads. Her forehead is embellished with a medallion.

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