Society and the Full Beard

Nowadays I sport a full beard. The kind so dense that I could smuggle gold coins in. So I get to hear this, a lot :

Why are you growing a beard?

To which I mostly answer, I am not growing it, it is growing by itself. I will dissect this innocent question and the subversive answer to find out what society thinks of the full beard and why.

There are two causes for a full beard, namely –

  1. you like a beard, hence you let it grow
  2. you are indifferent to it, and hence you let it grow
  3. you hate shaving/trimming, and hence you let it grow

The third reason is much more complex. Why does one not want to shave? Does he hate the act of shaving? Does he get turned off by the slight moral compulsion the society has put upon him to shave?
Does the fact that urban society has come to be dominated by white collar corporates, who have been disciplined into the riqours of grooming, make you feel enslaved?

First let us see if there are instances where society or institutions actually encourage a beard. First among them would off course be the sikh religion where beard comes under one of the five “ka’s”. I don’t want discuss this topic, one, because it is a religious issue, and second others have done it way better than I can. Another institution is the defence. At least some commando units, like the black cat commandoes, are encouraged to wear full beards. They even get a beard maintenance allowance if they sport one. Why does the highly disciplined and strict on grooming military, allow beards? in fact encourage it? We will come to this point later in this post.
Does corporate encourage, at least tolerate beards? Most of them from personal experience do not. The ones that do would be the creative sector, advertising, film making, etc. There is this popular notion that creativity and a beard are soul sisters. But a more likely reason may be that the creative sector also has more liberals.

Liberty – Liberty is a concept of political philosophy and identifies the condition in which an individual has the right to act according to his or her own will.

Like the recent supreme court decision not to allow a muslim student to wear a full beard, to avoid ‘talibanisation of india’. Now with full respect to the supreme court, I do think that talibanisation is not wearing a full beard, it is quashing of the individual liberty, and this decision is ironic as it is the supreme court which acted like the taliban.

Another report in TOI, made me ROTFL. Who am I kidding? there are people out there who follow trends like these. In between all the words like ‘new age man’, ‘sexuality’, there was a line by a psychiatrist which caught my attention.

During recession, women look for security. So, they’re reverting to the original cave man prototype – someone combining strength and sensuality. The beard is the symbol of a primordial male energy.

Now that is something. Letting it grow, could also mean that the guy is in touch with his baser instincts, the lizard brain. The one which makes us clench our fist and grit our teeth, flex our neck muscles when excited. The one that the culture doesn’t teach us. So is society afraid of the cave man? It has sufficient reason to be, as there are violent men out there. And some types of violence also originate in the lizard brain. And this may be the reason that black cat commandos or NSGs are encouraged to sport a beard. To make the enemy afraid just by looking at a bearded guy is surely  way cheaper than very expensive weapons.

But there is another angle to the full beard. The ultra long flowy beard. Which has always demanded respect. Think Rabindranath Tagore, or Bheeshma Pitamah from Mahabharat, or the countless spiritual gurus. At what length does the beard loose its violent streak and turn into spirtual respect seeking body. Even the logic here is convoluted. Do you remember any famous indian god with a full beard? If a long flowy beard is an indicator of hightened spirituality, why does’nt the main gods, Vishnu and Shiva don’t sport one. Brahma does have a beard, but he is too mired in controversy to be worshippable. Still more mystery is how come shiva lost his moustache and beard. I have seen statues and paintings of shiva in himachal where he sports a full beard. And even without any factual data, one would assume that the dreadlocked shiva would hardly care about shaving. Who decided to shave shiva and why?

These are all questions still unanswered, mysteries to be undiscovered.

update – 2 june ’09 – I have found a greater enemy of the beard, more dangerous than ‘society’. It is called split ends.

10 comments

  1. that is a very good point samrat. one that I missed. In fact hindus don’t cut/shave there hair during mourning. the love failure is I think a subset of this. i.e. a lover mourns off his dead relation

  2. the head shaving ceremony marks the end of the mourning period. it is done on the 13 day from the death, during which saving and cutting hair is prohibitted.

  3. I don’t know of bearded shiva but i certainly have seen images of lord shankar with moustache (shankar and shiv are same). The beard and moustache don’t go well with the ardhnari incarnation maybe thats the reason they removed it.

  4. dinesh just read your post.. you have added to the list of reactions of seeing a full beard. some ppl thing beards make you look intelligent .. interesting 🙂

  5. @KAA in our villages all the younger brothers and sons or nephews give away thier hairs (facial and head) right after the funeral.

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