Category Archives: Indian Hair Comb

Sikhs and Sikh Combs

An important comb type, little publicised and infrequently encountered, is a notable feature of the orthodox Sikh community whose peoples, now dispersed throughout the world, originated mainly from the Punjab State of north-west India, bordering on Pakistan. This is a territory through which the 5 tributaries of the river Indus flow – the word Punjab signifies “the land of the 5 rivers”. Amritsar is the state capital, their language is Punjabi.

The term Sikh is derived from the Sanskrit word Shiksh meaning “to learn”; in Punjabi, it is translated as Disciple.[1] A Sikh initiated into the Khalsa is regarded as an “orthodox” Sikh, belonging to the community of Amritdhari. Founded by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699, he gave Khalsa Sikhs five distinguishing marks of identity, the five sacred K’s or Panj Kakke, and a code of conduct setting them apart from other groups and requiring them to live pure lives.[2]

Men are barred from cutting any body hair or beard – Kesh – and expected to wear a turban; to wear a Kachh, a pair of shorts (underpants), as part of the required clothing; a Kara, a bangle of steel or iron, to be worn on the right wrist and a Kirpan – a short dagger, a sword with curved blade, or a knife of similar shape – always to be carried on the body; a Khanga (Kanga) comb worn in the hair under the turban to hold the topknot of the Kesh in place, symbolising personal hygiene and cleanliness in body and spirit.

2016 - Sikh Khanga combs in wood [for BS] 2

Before putting on his turban, the Sikh plaits his hair into one long braid, winding it up and securing it on the top of the head. Into this the comb is inserted for safe keeping. Women are expected to observe a similar but modified code and may have a Khanga attached with a black cord tucked under a bun. The tradition is, however, tending to die out in recent generations.

2016 - Sikh Khanga combs in wood [for BS] 1

A Khanga comb is a small grooming tool having a distinctive shape with the ‘shoulders’ usually sloping sharply downwards from a rounded or squared top edge. The small teeth are fine cut or sawn, mostly by hand. In many cases, the guard teeth are angled outward at the lower tip. These combs were made in wood, ivory and rhino tusk or in buffalo horn but not cattle horn.

The combs measure between 1 ½ -2 ¾ ins (4-7 cm) in width and 1 ¼ -1 ¾ ins (3.5-4.3 cm) in depth. The illustrated combs are all dating to the later 20th C although the 3 small ivory examples are much earlier.

2016 - Sikh Khanga combs in ivory [for BS]

References:
1. Srinivasan, Radhika. Cultures of the World: India. Times Books International, Singapore. 1994 [p.72]

2. A Popular Dictionary of Sikhism: Sikh Religion and Philosophy (Popular Dictionaries of Religion) 1 New edition by Cole, W. Owen, Sambhi, Piara Singh (1997) Paperback Cole, W.Owen. and Sambhi, Piara Singh. Curzon Press, Richmond, Surrey. 1990/1997 [p.90]

Jen Cruse is author of the authoritative reference The Comb: Its History and Development

Indian Combs of Love and Perfume

One day in 1819, an Indian tiger noticed a party of British hunters. They were obviously lost and thirsty, so the tiger led them to a cave where there was water and went on his way. The Western Ghat mountains near Maharashta can be hard to navigate. What the hunters found were the painted caves…Continue Reading

The Sarpech of Mughal India

At the First Battle of Panipat, on 21 April 1526, Zahir-ud-din Muhammad Babur founded the Mughal Dynasty. He was absorbed in the ethos of Persian culture, even through he was a Turkic-Mongol, descending from Genghis Khan on his mother’s side. However, instead of repressing different cultures under its domain, the Mughal Empire accommodated them and…Continue Reading

Plumes: The Creative Museum at the Musée des Arts d’Afrique et d’Asie

In its second collaboration with the Museum of African and Asian Arts in Vichy, The Creative Museum has been invited to participate in the exhibition, PLUMES. Human fascination with birds begins when their freedom of flight captures our imaginations. We watch birds soar and glide freely, as their beautiful, feathered wings catch gusts of air.…Continue Reading

Headdresses of Ladakh

Between the Kunlun and Himalayan mountains, in the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir lies the kingdom of Ladakh. Its capital, Leh, was an important stop on the trade route between Buddhist Tibet to the east and Muslim Kashmir to the west. It was also important to merchants traveling between India and China. The region…Continue Reading

Sotheby’s: Indian Mughal Comb

This ivory comb was made in North India, as the Mughal Empire reached the height of power in the 17th and 18th Centuries. The dynasty was founded in 1526 by Persian Sunni Muslims of Turkish-Mongol descent, hence the name, Mughal. The empire included Iran, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, and North India, among other lands. Condition: Perfect.…Continue Reading

Museum Combs: Egypt, New Zealand, India, and Germany

I would like to feature four museum combs today. The first comes from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. It belonged to the King Wadj, whose name means serpent. His tomb was found near the ancient city of Abydos. He was the third King of the First Egyptian Dynasty and ruled c. 2920 BC. In the…Continue Reading

Indian Perfume Oil Combs

Just as an accent can reveal a person’s origin, so a perfume (attar) can identify an Indian rural village. Each village has its unique mixture of oils from native plants, such as jasmine, patchouli, rose, and sandalwood. Connecting scent to beauty is a signature of Indian culture. These combs held oil to perfume the hair.…Continue Reading

Shringar Patti, Maang Tikka, and the Jada Naga

What is the difference between a shringar patti, a maang tikka, and the jada naga? Many brides wear all of three pieces. A shringar patti (left) is the full three-part tiara, in the center of which resides the maang tikka, or string with dangling jewel. However, the Jada Naga (right) has a hallowed place in…Continue Reading

Some lovely things at Sothebys

This is a lovely example of classic style. Hair comb pairs like this were also called opera combs. The crowns of these are openwork plaques set with about 1.50 carats of European-cut and rose-cut diamonds atop tortoise shell combs. Eighteenth-century India gives us this next tiara in an unusual hinged form. The openwork decoration depicts…Continue Reading