As hair is considered to be part of a person’s essence, it is forbidden to step over hair even if it is cut and lying on the ground. It is also prohibited to wash or comb one's hair in the evening or have one’s hair cut on an inauspicious day. Toddlers have their first haircut when they are 1. The ritual of the first haircut, called ungn us khyachlkh or dyak avlgn, is initiated by the child’s maternal uncle who cuts off the first lock. During this ritual, the handles of the scissors have to be bound with a red thread, which symbolizes the perpetuation of the vital power of the child’s original hair. Boys are supposed to be left with five locks: one on either side of the head, one on the crown, one on the forehead, and one at the back of the head.
Female hairstyles, by contrast, are rather simple. Traditionally, girls had a single braid. After marriage, they divided their hair into two braids.
Boba Kokueva, About Hairstyles and Hats
In the past when boys had their hair cut, five locks were left on their head: one on the top, one on the forehead, one on each temple and one at the back of the head. It was a man who was supposed to cut boys’ hair on auspicious days. Grown-up men grew their hair down to their neck. Old men did not have their hair cut. Men could wash their hair any time, although women were not supposed to wash it in the evening.
Bulyash Chumudova, About Boy’s and Men’s Hair Styles
In this interview Bulyash talks about traditional ideas and beliefs connected with haircuts and hairstyles.
Bulyash: Girls have only one pigtail tied with a ribbon at the end. After marriage, her hair is divided into two bunches. When I got married, they (my husband’s old female relatives) did this to my hair. They drank tea and said well wishes to me.
Mergen: How did they divide your hair?
B: They combed my hair and then divided it into 2 plaits/bunches.
M: What for?
B: It is done so that it brings happiness (to the bride), so that she becomes happy in her new house. My mother used to pray 3 times a month on the fasting days (on the 1st, 8th and 15th days of the month). Before the war (in 1941) I always helped and looked after her. She prayed to Buddhas and rolled prayer beads in her hands. In Siberia (where the Kalmyks were exiled) she continued doing so. Then we did not have butter to fill candles (dedicated to Buddhas). Instead we used animal fat.
M: In the past did people cut their hair?
B: Women were not supposed to cut men’s hair. Today at barbershops it is okay, but back then we had other rules. Only men could cut other men’s hair. Things were like this in the past. Before cutting hair, people looked at whether the day was auspicious for doing so. They also consulted lamas (regarding whether the day was good to have their hair cut).
M: There is a saying that women have long hair but short intelligence. Why do people say this?
B: Women indeed have little intelligence. They don’t rule countries, do they? There is a saying, ‘The goat’s meat is not offered to gods/ Women do not preside over the state’. An offering to gods never includes goat’s meat, only sheep’s meat. In the past, men’s words were like law for women. Women lived according to what their husbands’ and elders’ wishes. Women wore a headscarf so that other people could not see their hair.
M: When women cut their hair, was it considered to be a sin?
B: When women cut men’s hair, it is bad.
M: Did women cut their own hair?
M: What kind of hairstyles did old women have?
B: Old women wore shivrlyk on their hair. Even today some do so. Women also wore tokug (a metal ornament).
M: Do you wear shivrlyk?
B: My mother did. She also wore a Kalmyk dress and tokug. She died in 1963. We lived separately. She lived with our little brother. I do not know where her tokug and prayer beads are now. Her daughter-in-law must have inherited them.
M: Did women wash their hair?
B: Of course, we did. Should we have stayed with dirty heads? Hair is long, you see.
M: What time of the day did you wash it?
B: During the daytime. It was forbidden to do so in the evening.
M: What did you wash your hair with?
B: With chigyan (sour milk). In Siberia, we boiled water with wild grass and washed hair with it.
M: When did you wash it?
B: During the day. My mother used to rebuke me: ‘Do not wash your hair in the evening! Do it in the daytime. You have brothers and sisters, keep this in mind’.
M: What was the reason for washing hair only in the daytime?
B: It was believed that washing it in the evening was bad for your siblings. My auntie never cut her hair in her life. Today, all cut their hair, some (women) even cut it short.
Bulyash Chumudova, About Women's Haircuts
Galina says that according to Kalmyk tradition a child has his/her first hair cut at the age of one. It is the child’s maternal uncle who has to cut. A small bundle of the hair is wrapped in a cloth and sewed in the child’s clothing.
Galina Suikieva, About the Ritual of the First Haircut
In her childhood Gerel had thick, long hair. Her grandmother combed it while reading mantras. Women had long hair, because they were supposed to be ‘close to earth’. The Kalmyks also believe that hair has magical powers.
Once Gerel started to lose her hair. This coincided when Gerel got cross with her mother. A lama said to her that she needs to ask forgiveness from her mother. After Gerel and her brother did so, her hair stopped falling out.
Gerel Shakeeva, About Hair
Gerel talks about her son’s first haircut. Gerel’s brother first cut the boy’s hair from four sides – this hair is kept today at Gerel’s mother-in-law’s house – and then shaved completely. The hair was later disposed of by burning it. After the haircut, the family had tea and uttered well-wishes to the boy. Gerel’s relatives who were at the ceremony left her house before the sunset.
Gerel Shakeeva, About the First Haircut
In this short interview Konstantin talks about the ritual of the first haircut among the Kalmyks.
Konstantin: There is one Kalmyk tradition. When a child reaches a year, he has his hair cut. Only a certain person can do it, i.e. a maternal uncle. The day of the first haircut is like a holiday. Relatives gather, drink tea, and the maternal uncle cuts the child’s hair. The hair is cut in 4 places: from the front, the back and from the sides. Then the hair is put near the (pictures and statues) of deities. After the ceremony, the maternal uncle receives a plate where all the present relatives put money and say well wishes. The more guests there are, the more the maternal uncle receives. An uncle of mine always used to joke to his brides, ‘Give birth to as many children as you can. Every year I will come and collect money’.
Darina: Do people leave any hair after the haircut?
Konstantin: No, the head gets shaven completely. It is believed that when the child has his/her hair cut, new mind comes into his/her head. By the age of one, children do not have much intelligence. It comes after they reach 1. So, when they have their first haircut, intelligence comes with it.
Konstantin Naktanov, About the First Haircut
Question: Can you talk about Kalmyk hairstyles?
Larisa: I do not know much about hairstyles of the past. I only can tell you about Siberia and the present. Why do you think the Jangar singer Vladimir Karuev trims his hair at the front? Its reason is as follows. In the past, the Kalmyks often participated in wars. Their hair was trimmed at the front of their head so that no hair got into their eyes when they sweated during a battle. At the back, men had a single braid so that their hair did not get in their way. Today young men also sport this haircut.
Larisa Shoglyaeva, Kalmyk Hairstyles
Namdzhl says that in the past people did not cut their hair. Her sister still has a long braid. Namdzhl herself had a long braid too. People washed their hair with cottage cheese, soap or the yolk of an egg. Shampoo did not exist. Married women had two braids which they put into special hair bags named shivrlg.
Namdzhl Putaeva, About Hair Care in the Past
Polina talks about several topics, including the differences between girls’ and married women’s hairstyles, rituals performed on the bride’s hair during a wedding, and about some wedding rituals.
Polina says that after a baby has her first haircut at the age of one, her hair grows quickly. When it reaches her shoulders, her parents comb her hair into one plait. She has the same hairstyle until she gets married. The age when a girl is deemed marriageable is 16. Kalmyk girls had a choice in choosing their suitors. If a girl did not like her suitor, she could communicate her discontent by putting her hair on her right shoulder. It this case, the boy would not approach her.
Following the marriage, she is brought to her husband’s house where women divide her hair by arranging it into two plaits to signify her married status. After this ceremony, all in the house drink tea, the older women put shivrlyk (special hair bags) on the bride’s two plaits and utter well wishes. This can be done the next day as well.
Polina also talks about wedding rituals connected with bringing a bride to her husband’s house, including cutting her nails, making her perform the ceremony of respect to her in-laws, etc.
Polina Fedorova, About Girls' and Women's Hairstyles
Polina says that Kalmyk men had long hair until the mid-19th century. When she was a child, men, however, had short haircuts. She says men did not spend much time in front of the mirror looking at themselves and combing their hair.