It is only in Hinduism that wearing a ‘jata' or hair matted in locks is associated with renunciation though all ancient civilisations in the world have nurtured it as part of religious culture.
Dreadlocks are a mark of identity for rishis, sadhus and saints in India who shun worldly pleasures to seek ‘moksha' or freedom from rebirth.
Contrary to the popular notion, it is difficult to look after the curly intertwined hair locks that make a sadhu look unkempt. These rather longish knotted strands need washing at least once every 2 or 3 days to keep them free of lice, according to sadhu Sarveshwardas of Ram Digambar Akhada, Ayodhya.
He is one of the 20 jatadhari sadhus who are passing through Adilabad district while circumnavigating the Godavari river. These sadhus organise their matted hair locks in the form of a turban and can only be distinguished from close quarters.
“Regular hair care can only be time consuming which does not suit our style of life. Matted locks act as insulation during cold weather,” points out Sarveshwardas as he talks about different aspects involved in the practice.
In Telangana and some parts of South India women belonging to some sects sported the dreadlocks, again as a mark of renunciation. The custom of Shiva Sathulu or wives of Lord Shiva was prevalent even in Adilabad until a couple of decades ago.
Like the Joginis or Devadasis, Shiva Sathulus were married to Lord Shiva to spend lives as ascetics. These women used to wear a ‘jata' as a measure of dedication to their divine husband.
In civilisations like the one in North Africa, dreadlocks were worn by priests. The ancient Egyptians sported it as a matter of social status.
In the 1930s it became a part of the life style of adherents of Rastafari movement. It was fashionable to wear the matted locks thanks to the emergence of Reggae music in the 1970s.
These sadhus organise their matted hair locks in the form of a turban and can only be distinguished from close quarters