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Opinion: Why Do Indian Women Cover Their Head And Face?

Indian women have always been labelled as traditional. Covering heads, wearing bindis, laden with ornaments, traditional clothes and so many other things set Indian women apart from the rest. The practice of covering heads in India has been a matter of curiosity for most of us, including those who are new to our culture.

Covering the head and sometimes even veiling the face is often seen as a mark of respect. In some cultures, married women are supposed to pull off a veil in front of elder male members of the family. In very traditional and rural areas, women use their sari to completely cover the face and neck, concealing their identity before males.

Some women use the fabric to cover their whole face, chest, arms, and stomach. This type of veiling is still popular with Hindu brides and is observed on the wedding day. Many new brides use the ghungat until their father-in-law advises to unveil. This is to keep the modesty of the bride, as they say.

Interestingly, the practice of covering the head with a veil is also practised in other religions. For instance, in Islam the practice of Purdah is mandatory for women. Similarly, in Christianity also there are provisions for wearing a head scarf during prayers. However, covering the head and wearing a veil is quite rampant in Hinduism, especially among the orthodox Hindus. Let us find out why Indian women cover their head and face.

Hindu Texts

There is no mention of women covering their head in any of the Hindu texts. In ancient India, women went out without veils or cover. It is not mentioned in the texts about it being mandatory to cover the head even during prayers in Hinduism.

Does This Practice Belong Originally To India?

Wearing a veil made women look chaste and respectable as per the beliefs of the ancient times. While the women in Southern regions of India never covered their heads or faces, it indicates that the practice does not originally belong to Indian traditions.

To Prevent Socially Unhealthy Intentions

Some believe that head scarves help women resist unhealthy intentions of men as well, such as flirting, etc. Similarly, it was believed that a veil ensured that women themselves also did not get involved in such practices. Hence, those who were overprotective about their women imposed this, and it gradually began customary for all.

The Concept Of Security

In most religions the main reason why women should cover their heads is because of the concept of security. It is believed that when a woman covers herself completely, there are less chances of her getting noticed by other men and hence it guarantees her safety. That is why a woman is supposed to cover her head or remain in a veil in front of other men, except her husband.

The chastity of the woman is held of paramount importance in all the sections of Indian society. People think it symbolises the prestige or especially the purity of the family. As a part of culture, most of Indian women decorate their hair and the beauty might attract other men. Hence, the women often cover their heads.

In Islam as well, women are supposed to cover their heads, as per some religious beliefs. While some people believe that God requires women to cover their heads and faces, others believe that it is simply a religious act which needs to be done in order to be a part of the religious group.

To Keep Away The Negative Energies

Yet another belief is that women in the ancient times applied scented oils in their hair, and the scent attracted negative energies, such as ghosts and devils faster. Hence, while going out they would cover their hair in order to keep the scent from spreading.

An Indication That A Woman Is Married

In most of the places, only married women cover their heads. Some believe that this is done to convey the message that these women should be treated with more respect and be considered equivalent to their mother.

Muslim Invasions

The concept of covering up women's head and face came with the Muslim rule in India. During the Rajput reign in India, the women were kept in veils to protect them from the bad intentions of the invaders. The most classic example was of Al-ud-din Khilji, the Sultan who fell for Rani Padmini's beauty who was the queen of Chittor.

Ala-ud-din attacked Chittor and captured the kingdom only for the beautiful queen. Eventually, Rani Padmini performed Jauhar and emolated herself to escape from the clutches of the enemy. Thus, the practice of covering the head and face of women in India became more popular.

It can be said that the practice of covering the head or face or any part of the woman's body came up due to the bad intentions of men. She was made to cover herself from every male she encountered apart from her husband. It was believed to be a sign of showing respect to elders and other males and also the portrayal of her feminine grace and dignity.

In the modern era, covering the head or face with a veil has become more of a fashion statement than necessity. Women from the southern part of India never wore a veil. This clearly shows veils were never a part of the religion. The significance of ghunghat came into existence since the medieval period. Then it was a necessity but now it has become an imposition on women.

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