Beards and turbans

A question from Vamsi Vadana das:

August 29 2008

How come Prabhupada never wore a turban or kept a weeks face stubble, this was practiced by his Guru, on occasions? He tells on tape (5th Canto Dec 1976) the particular day of the month that devotee’s should shave when warning that “we are no longer being known as shaven headed.” In fact I remember Mukunda Maharaj at the manor (74) and he shaved his head every day. He must of got this from Prabhupada. In retrospect, recently in the world, the Shikh’s have been lumped in with the Pathan terrorists, both turbaned/bearded, and have been complaining. When you see Gaudiya Math they sometimes appear turbaned/bearded, and could easily be taken for muslims from society’s secular vision.


Srila Prabhupada didn’t like beards. He liked his disciples to be clean and neat and to Srila Prabhupada, beards were scruffy and too much identified with the hippie generation and their attachments to long hair.

 peace man!    beards-hippie.jpg

He also felt beards, or his disciples’ attachement to them, were another feature of maya. Hayagriva was our most famous bearded devotee but by Srila Prabhupada’s encouragement he gradually gave up his hairs and Srila Prabhupada was very pleased:

Letter to: Hayagriva — Vrindaban 29 August, 1967

“I am so glad to learn that you have sacrificed your long beard and hair. I have forgotten your mother’s address, or I would have informed her of your action, and I think she would have liked it very much. Anyway, you must have reduced your age considerably by sacrificing this “maya,” and now you must look like a very nice young gentleman.”  

Hayagriva before…  and after

And when Hayagriva’s old friend, Kirtanananda reverted back to hair and beard, Srila Prabhupada wasn’t happy: 

Calcutta 11 October, 1967

My Dear Brahmananda,

Please accept my blessings. On my arrival in Calcutta I have duly received your two letters dated __ & 5th instant. Regarding change of dress, I beg to inform you that every Krishna conscious person must be clean shaved, must have Tilakas on the forehead and other eleven places and must have the Sikha on the top of the head besides beads on the neck as usual.

Rarely one can continue to keep beard but it is better not to keep it to distinguish oneself from the Hippies. We must let the public know that we are not Hippies. Do not try to follow the unauthorized advice of Kirtanananda. Nobody cares for the dress; every sane man follows the philosophy and practical talks. Let Kirtanananda Swami do something practically. Let him do whatever he likes and let us see that thousands of American are following him. Unless he does so do not accept his principle.

I think all of you except a Sannyasi may dress yourself just like a fine up to date American gentleman but one must have the Tilakas etc as I have mentioned above. Kirtanananda is the first man in our society who cleanly shaved and kept the Sikha on the top of the head and now he has begun to keep beard again. This is not good. Whatever he is doing nowadays has no sanction from me. And he has deliberately disobeyed me by not going to London. Now he appears to be out of my control and therefore I advise you not to follow his principles unless he shows practically something wonderful.

I gave him a chance to do this in the matter of opening a Branch in London but he has failed to do it. Now let him show first of all that by seeing his newly grown beard he has been successful to have many Americans following him and our financial condition has improved, then try to follow his instruction. Otherwise reject all idle talks. A Krishna conscious person must be seen by ears and not by the eyes or in other words one should try to know the depth of realization by Krishna conscious person and not see the beard which has become the practice of the Hippies.

Calcutta 17 October, 1967

To Pradyumna:

“Regarding the hippy religion; we must distinguish ourselves from the hippies. The hippies generally maintain long hair & beard & in order to distinguish ourselves from them we should be clean shaved. When our devotees go outside I have no objection if he dresses as nice American or Canadian gentleman. Up to date gentlemen are all clean shaved so if we do not keep long hair & dress ourselves nicely with tilaka, flag & beads on the neck, apart from our devotional service, then certainly we shall be distinct from the Hippies. I think we should follow this principle rigidly & there is no question of giving up robes in the temple.”

During the time I traveled with His Divine Grace there were a couple of occasions when beards came up. In this letter to Uttama Sloka prabhu, who had written a detailed and intense report on the devotees’ book distribution feats on Thanksgiving Day in 1975 in America, Srila Prabhupada mentions another class of bearded persons that he did not want his disciples to be identified with:

Vrindaban 11 December, 1975

My Dear Uttamasloka Prabhu,

Please accept my blessings. I read your Sankirtana news letter with great relish. Europe and America are in great danger, this Hare Krishna movement is enveloping them. The Sankirtana devotees are very very dear to Krishna. Because you are doing the field work of book distribution, Krishna has immediately recognized them as true servants. Just like during war time, a farm boy or ordinary clerk who goes to fight for his country on the front, immediately becomes a national hero for his sincere effort. So Krishna immediately recognizes a preacher of Krishna consciousness who takes all risks to deliver his message.

It is called Dhira vrata—determination. These boys and girls are mahatmas, mahatmanas tu mam partha, daivim prakrtim asritah, bhajantyananya manaso, jnatva bhutadim avyayam [Bg. 9.13] “O son of Pritha, those who are not deluded, the great souls, are under the protection of the divine nature. They are fully engaged in devotional service because they know me as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, original and inexhaustible.” This verse is applicable here, if these boys were under material nature they would not take so much risk, they are mahatma, they are real mahatma, not that long beard and saffron cloth mahatma. They are unswerving in their determination, dhira vrata. All glories to the American devotees!”

‘not that long beard and saffron cloth sadhu’      the original hippies

In a letter to Dhrstaketu, sent from New York on 17 July, 1976 Srila Prabhupada goes even further and states that long hair is against the principle. He also mentions about the practice of catur-masya:

“Unless absolutely necessary, one should keep head shaven and not allow the hair to grow long. If absolutely necessary, one can dress like an American gentleman, with short hair, but long hair is prohibited. The reason that one with long hair is not my disciple is because he is against the principle. Unless absolutely necessary one should keep hair short, and if necessary one can dress like an American gentleman with short hair. It is not expected that everyone will join. For that reason we can’t compromise. The tendency is there to be hippy.

When the acaryas are seen with beard, that is during Caturmasya, July-September. If observed strictly there is not simply a beard. There are so many rules and regulations. One can’t eat a variety of foods. Only kitri prepared and poured on the floor, and then licked up. There are so many other rules also. That is not always that they kept beard.”

But these practices, though bona-fide, are subordinate to the principle of preaching:

From TD 4: August 17 1976 — Hyderabad temple opening:

“After breakfast Prabhupada called for Yasodanandana and Mahamsa Maharajas who are both growing their hair and beards on the plea of observing caturmasya. Srila Prabhupada told them it was inappropriate that they look dirty and unclean on such an important occasion. His criticism had the desired effect for they both left and immediately shaved their heads and faces.”

As far as turbans go, they are of course traditional in India. This is Srila Prabhupada with the king of Sanand in Gujarat, on December 25, 1975:

 SP with the King of Sananda

 Srila Bhaktisiddhanta and his followers would wear them, but as you say, we never saw Srila Prabhupada wear one. Srila Prabhupada’s preferred head gear was what became known as the ‘swami hat’, something akin to a 1st world war pilot’s hat:

 SP in his swami hat

 I have heard conflicting statements. Jayapataka Swami will tell you that Srila Prabhupada approved of devotees wearing them, at least on some occasions. Maybe he has a reference for that. I personally heard him criticize Upendra prabhu in Mayapur in March 1977 that he looked like a half-crazy person because he was wearing a turban.

Your humble servant, Hari-sauri dasa

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