Chaulam (चौलम्)

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Chaulam (Samskrit: चौलम्) is one of the childhood samskaras rarely followed by traditional Indian families even in present times. While Chudakarana or Chaulam have been prescribed in various texts as a prerequisite for performing various rituals, it was also supported by the medical texts of Acharyas Sushruta and Charaka.[1]

Chudakarma Samskara

परिचयः ॥ Introduction

Chaulam is also called Cūḍākarma (चूडाकर्म) and Cūḍākaraṇam ((चूडाकरणम्) Chudakarana). Cūḍā means tuft (of hair) that is kept on the back side of the head while the remaining part is clean shaven. In tradition it is popularly called "Śikhā". In Sanskrit the letters "ल (la)" and "ड (ḍa)" are often interchanged. So Caula (चौल) and Cūḍā (चूडा) mean the same. The Saṃskāra for which the purpose is making a "Cūḍā" (tuft / Śikhā) is called Caulam (चौलम्), and also Cauḷam (चौळम्).

According to Dr. Rajbali Pandey, cutting the hair and keeping the head clean was one of the primary reasons to have a shikha; the process for which later on came to be regarded as an important event in the life of an individual. To keep the head clean some device was bound to be invented. Chopping the hair by means of an iron instrument was the natural course but people were also afraid of cutting and injuring themselves in this process. Necessity and fear both mingled together and gave rise to the Chudakarana ceremonies.[1]

वेदेषु चौलविषयाः ॥ Chaula in the Vedic times

Almost all the mantras that are used in the Grhyasutras at the tonsure ceremony are found in the Vedic literature and they are all of specific character which shows that they were composed for the purpose of cutting the hair only.

Atharvaveda has a short three mantra sukta dedicated to the tonsure ceremony. Wetting the head and invoking deities are the important rites mentioned in it.

आयमगन्त्सविता क्षुरेणोष्णेन वाय उदकेनेहि । आदित्या रुद्रा वसव उन्दन्तु सचेतसः सोमस्य राज्ञो वपत प्रचेतसः ॥१॥ (Atha. Veda. 6.68.1)

Meaning: This diligent barber, Savita, has come with the razor. O man, come fast with water. Let brilliant, wise and noble people with love at heart bless the child with holy water. O men of love and peace with the generosity of soma, join at the shining child’s tonsure ceremony.[2]

अदितिः श्मश्रु वपत्वाप उन्दन्तु वर्चसा । चिकित्सतु प्रजापतिर्दीर्घायुत्वाय चक्षसे ॥२॥

Meaning: Let the razor cut the hair. Let water consecrate the child with brilliance. Let Prajapati enlighten the child and bless him to have a long age of good health, knowledge and holy vision.[2]

येनावपत्सविता क्षुरेण सोमस्य राज्ञो वरुणस्य विद्वान् । तेन ब्रह्माणो वपतेदमस्य गोमान् अश्ववान् अयमस्तु प्रजावान् ॥३॥

Meaning: By the process the expert barber has shaved the head of the shining, loving and intelligent child with the razor, by the same ceremonial process, O Brahmanas, pray complete the tonsure ceremony of the child. May this child be rich in lands, cows and horses and may he have a noble family.[2]

We see above the importance of the Chaula samskara along with the rites that are performed in the ceremony. So it is quite clear that the Chudakarana was a religious ceremony as early as in the Vedic period, consisting of wetting the head, prayer to the razor, invitation to the barber, cutting the hair with Vedic verses and wishes for long life, prosperity, valour and even progeny for the child.[1]

In the Yajurveda we find that the shaving razor is praised and requested to be harmless: “Thou art friendly by name Thy father is hard iron. I salute thee; do not injure the child." Cutting the hair by the father himself for abundance of food, progeny, wealth and strength is also referred to. The barber, a personification of Savita or the sun, is also welcomed.[1]

चौलसंस्कारम् ॥ Chaula Samskara

उपयुक्तकालः ॥ Time of performance

Chaulam is to be performed during the third year by counting days from the date of birth –

जन्मनोऽपि तृतीये वर्षे चौलं पुनर्वस्वोः । आपस्तम्बगृह्यसूत्रम् १६.३॥ janmano'pi tṛtīye varṣe caulaṃ punarvasvoḥ । Āpastambagṛhyasūtram 16.3॥

Caulam has to be performed during the third year by counting days from the date of birth and in the star Punarvasu. In the Paraskara Grhyasutras the Chudakarana ceremony took place at the end of the first year or before the expiry of the third year.

सांवत्सरिकस्य चूडाकरणम् १ तृतीये वाऽप्रतिहते २ (Para. Grhy. Sutr. 2.1.1-2)

Manu also prescribes the same. According to the rules of the Vedas, the Chudakarana of all the Dvijas should be performed either in the first or the third year of the child.[1]

चूडाकर्म द्विजातीनां सर्वेषां एव धर्मतः । प्रथमेऽब्दे तृतीये वा कर्तव्यं श्रुतिचोदनात् । । २.३५ (Manu. Smrt. 2.35)

The later authorities extend the age upto the fifth and the seventh year; some say that it could be performed with the Upanayana which might take place even later. Chudakarana is praiseworthy in the third or the fifth year; but it can be performed even in the seventh year or with the Upanayana as mentioned in Viramitrodaya.[1]

In practice, hair was cropped early in the life of the child, but its ceremonial performance was postponed up to the time of the Upanayana when it was performed a few minutes before the initiation with all the formulas of the scripture. This is the custom which is generally followed at present. However it is not liked and an early age is regarded more meritorious. Chudakarana performed in the third year is regarded as the best by the learned; in the sixth or the seventh year it is ordinary; but in the tenth and eleventh year it is worst.[1]

In Smrtis it is mentioned that Chudakarana has to be performed when the sun was in the Uttarayana (travelling northwards). A list of prohibited times is as follows.[1]

  • Chaitra, Pushya according to some texts and Jyestha and Margashira months according to other texts.
  • It is not performed during night; performed only during the day for obvious reasons.
  • During the pregnancy of the child's mother as she cannot take part in the ceremony, with the exception of before fifth month of pregnancy.
  • During monthly menstruation of the mother, this samskara is prohibited.

In some cases, the Saṁskāra was performed in accordance with the Varna one belonged to; for Brāhmaṇa, the expiry of third year was set a deadline, Kṣatriya had to perform this in the fifth year and Vaiśya in the seventh year.[3]

संस्कारस्य प्रयोजनम् ॥ Purpose of the Samskara

The purpose of the Samskara as given in the scripture was the achievement of long life for the recipient.

तेन ते आयुषे वपामि सुश्लोक्याय स्वस्तय इति । (Ashv. Grhy. Sutr. 1.17.12)

Life is prolonged by tonsure; without it, it is shortened. Therefore, it should be performed by all means (mentioned in Viramitrodaya).[1] The crown area of the head is said to have a marma sthana named Adhipati. To protect this area, men have to keep a tuft of hair as mentioned in the Yajurveda.[4]

नि वर्तयाभ्यायुषेऽन्नाद्याय प्रजननाय रायस्पोषाय सुप्रजास्त्वाय सुवीर्याय ॥ (यजुर्वेद, ३/६३)

Meaning: 'O Child! I pray for your long life. I perform this chudakarana samskara so that you have good capability to digest food, attain high reproductive ability and prosperity.[4] Chudakarana performed in the first year prolongs life and increases holy lustre. In the third year it fulfils all the desires. One who desires cattle should perform it in the fifth year. Its performance in the even year is prohibited as mentioned in Viramitrodaya.[1]

तृतिये वर्षे चौले तु सर्वकामार्थसाधनम् । संवत्सरे तु चौलेन आयुष्यं ब्रह्मवर्चसम् ।। पञ्चमे पशुकामस्य युग्मे वर्षे तु गर्हितम्। (Atri quoted in Viramitrodaya)

संस्कारविधिः ॥ Samskara Vidhi

On the chosen day, preparations were made for the ceremony and paraphernalia were arranges for such as Kusha grass, sterilized scissors and knife for cutting hair and neat and clean clothes for the baby. The floor was decorated with the cow dung paste and kept clear of any dust or dirt. Some prescribe the application of curds or butter on the head. The child was then given a bath by the mother and adorned in new clothes; it was brought to the venue of the ceremony. Mother sat to the west of the sacrificial fire with the child in her lap. The father then offered the Ajay oblations and after he has partaken of the sacrificial food, he pours warm water into the cold water with some chants.[3]

The parting of hair could be done by self or by employing a barber who followed the directions. Drawing water from the vessel with the right hand, father moistened the patch of hair on the right ear side with uttering some mantras. Atharvaveda mantras suggest the dampening of hair before chudakarana (6.68.1).

Later the barber cuts the demarcated patch of hair along with the darbha grass with a knife or razor of metal and throws of the hair on the bull’s dung which is later carried to the forest and buried deep under. Sometimes hair are also thrown into the grass and some were merged into the waters of rivers and oceans as well. The same process is repeated for the left side and back side of the head.[3]

The head was shaved three times round from left to the right along with uttering of some mantras. It is only in case of this Saṁskāra that Gṛhyasūtra of Gobhila recommends that the rites shall be performed in the same way for a girl child with the chanting of mantras, with only minor difference that these should not be chanted aloud, rather silently. Only some hairs on the top of the head were not shorn off, which was called, Shikha, and in case of dvijas, it had immense significance and function. The great importance has been attached to Shikha by Bhrgu, Bṛhspati and some other authorities whereas Sushruta explains the medical importance of it as well. The ceremony ended with the feast and dakshina (fee) consisted cow, which practice later came to halt and the fee was paid in some other form.[3]

शिखा ॥ Shikha

Keeping a shikha or arrangement of the hair at the top of the head, while removing all the surrounding hair is an important feature of Chudakarana. Removing all hair on the head, or tonsuring is prohibited. After eleven months of age the surface skin covering the skull becomes hard enough making the removal of hair possible. The place where shikha is kept is the Brahma-randhra. It is from this hole like place on the head that the prana shakti enters or leaves the body. Hence during sandhyavandana, meditation, upaasana and samadhi there is a rule that shikha has to be tied up. Tying up the shikha closes the brahma-randhra.[4]

According to many scholars, in Chudakarma samskara at a young age of one or three years, head is tonsured (mundana) completely, whereas during the Upanayana ceremony a shikha is kept. The hair on the top is arranged as per family tradition. The number of tufts was determined by the number of the Pravara rishis in the lineage, as it may be three or five. Keeping the top hair, in its course of evolution, become an indispensable sign of the Hindus. The shikha and the yajnopavita (sacred thread) are the compulsory out-ward signs of the dvija.[3]

शिखायाः आवश्यकता ॥ Importance of Shika as per Vaidika texts

Maharshis of ancient India discussed the special significance and reasoning about a student (Male) keeping a shikha on his head. In the Taittriyopanishad it is mentioned,

अन्तरेण तालुके । य एष स्तन इवावलम्बते | सेन्द्रयोनिः । यत्रासौ केशान्तो विवर्तते । व्यपोह्य शीर्षकपाले | (Tait. Upan. Shikshavalli. 6)[5]

The Sushumna nadi passes through the piece of flesh which hangs down like a nipple between the two palates and ends where the skull splits and the roots of hair lie apart. That Sushumna is the path for the realization of the Self. The point where the skull splits is called the Brahma-randhra. It is at this randhra, just beneath the Shikha, that the Sushumna nadi opens into after travelling upwards from its origin through the forehead. Yogis opine that the area beneath the randhra, is the origin of the Sushumna nadi. These are the central areas for the Jnana and Karma shaktis which energize the Jnana and Karma Indriyas.[6]

आयुर्वेदस्य दृष्टिकोनः ॥ Ayurveda Perspectives

Ayurveda acharyas have discussed about haircutting and other hygiene related aspects from daily routine like nail cutting, keeping beard etc under the topics of Dinacharya (दिनचर्या) or Svasthavrtta (स्वस्थवृत्तम्) or preventive medicine. The act of cutting hair, nails, beard etc is collectively known as 'Samprasadhana' (संप्रसाधनम्). The benefits of these activities have been given by Acharya Charaka as Sushruta as follows,

According to Sushruta, shaving and cutting the hair and nails remove impurities and give delight, lightness, prosperity, courage and happiness. It also leads to the cleansing of papam (पापम् sins).[1][4]

पापोपशमनं केशनखरोमापमार्जनम् । हर्षलाघव सौभाग्यकरमुत्साहवर्धनम् ॥ (Sush. Samh. 24.73-74)[7]

Charaka opines, “Cutting and dressing of hair, beard and nails give strength, vigour, life, purity and beauty." At the basis of the tonsure ceremony the idea of health and beauty was prominent.[1][4]

पौष्टिकं वृष्यमायुष्यं शुचिरूपं विराजनम् । केशश्मश्रुनखादीनां कर्तनं सम्प्रसाधनम् ॥ (Char. Samh. 5.99)[8]

Therefore cutting hair even during chaulam has got some significance in terms of hygiene, energy, longevity and also an indicator or a transformation in life.

शिखास्थानस्य महात्म्यम ॥ The significance of Shikha as per Ayurveda

In Chudakarma samskara, shikha i.e. a tuft of hair at top of the head is kept intact while all the surrounding hair are removed completely. If we look at the structure and function of the body as per Ayurveda, it is known that, this part of head where the shikha is to be kept is the area of Adhipati marma.

मर्मम्॥ Marma

Marmas are known as vital points or the mortal spots. Among multiple types of the marmas, Adhipati marma present in this area is identified as the Sadyapranahara marma. [9] That means, any injury to this marma can cause death. If the injury happens not exactly at the marma but even in area nearby it, it can lead to death not immediately but in near future. Therefore it is advised that this part should be protected from any type of injury at every point time.

अवेध्या सिरा॥ Avedhya Sira

Sira refers to a blood vessel in Ayurveda. Ayurveda described few siras which should never be injured either during raktamokshana or any surgical procedure and even be protected from external injury. If injured it could lead to significant morbidity and mortality. These siras are thus called as Avedhya sira. One can find that one such avedhya sira is present at the adhipati site.[10] Therefore apart from being a sadyapranahara marma, Adhipati also contains an avedhya sira and both these marma as well as sira should be protected from an injury

While cutting the hair with the sharp instruments in a small child who can not sit still for hair cut, there are chances of adhipati marma and sira injury. Therefore probably to avoid the dreadful effects of this injury the provision of the ritual of keeping the shikha intact could have been suggested in ancient times.

Hair in Hinduism and samskara significance

In all cultures, human hair and hairdo have been a never-ending subject of declamation for moralists, and a popular object of fashion and style. The underlying fact is that our hair is not without a purpose. In Hinduism or sanatana dharma, Hair have always been given attention especially as a medium of expression of one's self. The hair represents a part of our body, and at the same time reflects how we feel, both mentally and physically, and communicates this to our peers. Hair is a powerful metaphor in Hindu mythology. One can find may instances where hair washing, tying etc have been done or not done symbolically to represent anger, rage, fury etc. Over the centuries, traditional Indian thought has equated long hair with the notions of docility and fertility. [11] [12]

There are certain fixed customs related to hair in Indian culture. Complete tonsure of head is done only the male mourners in Hindu families before performing the last rites of the departed; the widows in some ‘orthodox’ sects were expected to shave their heads once they lost their husbands. Brahmnis shaved their head always keeping shikha portion intact and thus making it different from the complete tonsure done after death or in a widowed woman. Hair cutting or tonsure as a part of Samskara for a male was considered highly auspicious however, customs and traditions related to hair for females are quite different. Conventionally, a Hindu girl never has her hair cut after the first haircut, which generally happens at the age of 11 months. Therefore, the first haircut for the girl is very important because that is the only time they do. However, some Hindus practice a tonsure ceremony for girls as well.

In Hindu tradition, the hair from birth is believed associated with undesirable traits from past lives. Thus some believe that, on the occasion of the Chudakarma ceremony, the child is shaven to signify freedom from the past and moving into the future. It is also believed that the shaving of the hair stimulates the proper growth of the brain and nerves, whereas a tuft at the crown of the head, protects the memory.[13]

Possible Scientific basis for timing of Chaulam samskara

At birth, the newborn's skull consists of five major bones (two frontal, two parietal, and one occipital) that are separated by connective tissue junctions known as cranial sutures. The sutures function as seams, and they are highly necessary to facilitate the movement and molding of the cranium through the birth canal during labor. They also allow for rapid postnatal growth and development of the brain. However, the bones that shape the cranium being unfused, leave several gaps between the individual bones of the infant's skull. These gaps are composed of membranous connective tissue and are known as fontanelles. Fontanelles, often referred to as "soft spots," are one of the most prominent anatomical features of the newborn's skull. Six fontanelles are present during infancy, with the most notable being the anterior and posterior fontanelles. Fontanelle morphology may vary between infants, but characteristically they are flat and firm. Certain conditions such as dehydration or infection can alter the appearance of the fontanelles, causing them to sink or bulge, respectively. Below these soft spots or fontanelles, lie the brain and vessels surrounding it. Thus protection of the fontanelles is crucial. [14] These soft spots close in a sequential manner in humans. 3 fontanelles (Posterior, sphenoidal and mastoid) close between 3 months of age to 18 months of age. The last to close is anterior fontanelle which generally fuses between 1-3 years of age. Thus it is clear that, in humans, all fontanelles are generally fused by the fifth year of life with 38% of fontanelles closed by the end of the first year and 96% of the fontanelles closed by the second year. [15] While performing the tonsure in samskara, as mentioned earlier injury to the soft spots can happen. An thus it can be best avoided if the tonsure is done after completing 3 years of age when most of the fontanelles are closed.


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 Pandey, Raj Bali. (1949) Hindu Samskaras, A Socio-religious study of the Hindu Sacraments. Banaras: Vikrama Publications. (Pages 158-)
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Dr. Tulsi Ram (2013) Atharvaveda, Vol 1. Delhi: Vijaykumar Govindram Hasanand. (Pages 613-614)
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Chahal, Mandeep (2020) Ph.D Thesis Titled: Samskaras in the Grihyasutras historical account of Jatakarma Upanyana Vivaha and Antyeshti. (Chapter 3)
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 Shukla, Sacchidanand (2008) Hindu Dharm ke Solah Sanskar. Delhi: Prabhat Prakashan.
  5. Taittriya Upanishad (Shikshavalli)
  6. Dr. Shri. Lalitji Mishra's Article: Shikha ya chotiki mahima in Kalyan Sanskar Ank. Gorakhpur: Gita Press (Pages 309)
  7. Sushruta Samhita (Chikitsasthanam Adhyaya 24 Sutra 73-74)
  8. Charaka Samhita (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 5 Sutra 99)
  9. Sushruta Samhita (Sharirasthanam Adhyaya 6 Sutra 9,27)
  10. Sushruta Samhita (Sharirasthanam Adhyaya 7 Sutra 22)
  11. About the significance of hair in Hindu mythology.
  12. The Indian hair saga.
  13. Trüeb RM. From Hair in India to Hair India. Int J Trichology. 2017;9(1):1-6. doi:10.4103/ijt.ijt_10_17
  14. Lipsett BJ, Reddy V, Steanson K. Anatomy, Head and Neck, Fontanelles. [Updated 2021 Jul 26]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: