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Why Indian Women Cover Their Head?

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Indian women have always been labelled as traditional. Covering heads, wearing bindis, laden with ornaments, traditional clothes and so many other things sets 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 head or putting a ghoonghat is often seen as a mark of respect. Married women are supposed to pull off a ghoonghat or head 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 to males.

Why Indian Women Cover Their Head?

There is a small minority of women that 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 will use the ghungat until their father-in-law advises to unveil. This is to keep the modesty of the bride.

Interestingly, the practice of covering the head with veil is also practiced 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 scrf during prayers. However covering head and wearing veil is quite rampant in Hinduism, especially amongthe orthodox Hindus.

Let us find out why Indian women are supposed to cover their heads?

Hindu Texts
Interestingly, 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 mandatory to cover head even during prayers in Hinduism.

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 guarantees her safety. That is why a woman is supposed to cover her head or remain in veil in front of other men except her husband.

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 women'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 portrayal of her feminine grace and dignity.

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

Pulling up a veil or ghoonghat on head should be a matter of preference and not an imposition. She should decide for herself what she chooses to wear and how to dress up. Binding her in a few conventional set of protocols and then judging by that doesn't help her grow.
It is a beautiful custom to cover head during prayers and should be definitely appreciated by all. So, why not follow the tradition with complete respect for it and not as an imposition? It's definitely the time to do away with stereotypes.

Read more about: tradition
Story first published: Friday, September 19, 2014, 16:05 [IST]
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