Fake an Authentic Indian Hairstyle

Modern Methods to Medieval Majesty:

How to Fake an Authentic Indian Hairstyle


Lady Lalitadasa



In medieval India, as in all cultures around the world, popular fashions came and went—yet we know that beautiful, long hair was always prized; it’s shown in the earliest, primitive carvings as well as the most exquisitely detailed of period painted miniatures. Sometimes, a single style was more popular than another; at other times a range of styles appeared, but throughout all of medieval India (during the entirely of our SCA period), fantastically designed and sculptured hairstyles were the norm.

Fortunately, you do not need to grow your own impossibly luscious locks to approximate these gorgeous looks in the modern world. With synthetic hair, pre-made buns and braids, and a few other basic materials, it’s easy to create amazing period-looking hairstyles. Following are our historical inspirations, our materials, our methods, and our results for recreating two popular period styles (a jeweled braided bun and a waist-length braid/bun combination), along with a few variations.

I. An Exotic Ideal
India, land of exotic beauty and eastern mystery, has been known for millennia as a place of physical splendor. Women with poise and elegance graced the halls of
kings, inspiring temple sculpture, palace paintings and poetry. Their attributes fill the hearts of poets even to this day:
smooth dusky limbs, large almond eyes, heavy lips red with desire, hair both long and thick, eyebrows like drawn bows.

This physical ideal of beauty for a medieval Indian woman was very different from that of her European counterpart. In India, there was a codified image of perfection, which appears in several different kinds of texts, ranging from poetry to medical science to the science of love. This ideal includes: legs long strong as the temples of a pillar, hips wide and well curved, a small waist with three folds, heavy breasts so thick a blade of grass cannot fit between and heavy enough to give her a small hunch and a long neck.

A medieval Indian woman should have graceful arms that taper from heavy biceps down to delicate hands with well-groomed nails. Her eyes should be almond shaped, or like the petal of a lotus, and heavily lined with kohl. Both her eyes and her crescent-shaped eyebrows should stretch to her hairline. Lips should be full, teeth even—and both should be stained red with betel. On her brow should be a sacred mark. Her hair should be heavy, dark, thick and extremely long...but seldom worn loose.

Elaborately displaying the hair on top of the head was one key way that the women of the time demonstrated wealth, culture, and taste. Just as it does now in the modern world, a woman’s sense of style and beauty set her apart from the baser elements of society. “Beauty was viewed not merely as a set of attributes (though it was indeed this too), but a capacity, particularly bestowed by birth, which was to be realised though individual agency. It was deemed beyond the aspirations of common people, but within established society, it formed a ceaseless and life-long vocation.” (Ali, pg 143)

Yet at the same time, displaying the hair on top of the head had a more practical purpose, serving not only beauty but comfort as well. In a land where average temperatures range from 104° F in the summer to 50° F in winter—and with a high level of humidity during more than half the year— keeping one’s hair up off the neck and back was a great way to stay comfortable as well as fashionable.