What do you use your comb for? The tribal communities of Odisha make some of the most exquisite combs, and use them not just to put tresses in place but to ward off evil, flatter a lover and weed out thorns from the body. According to a Desia Kandh tribal lore, the origin of the combs is traced to the time when one horrible day, people started dying of an unknown disease. The Kandh king then prayed to Jakini Penu, the tribal deity. The deity responded by advising the king to make a comb of bamboo and palm, and to comb his hair regularly. The king propagated the faith and the tribe, they say, has not suffered since. Siredi, as their combs are known, come in two shapes, quadrangular for men and circular for women.

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Santhal tribe of Odisha
Santhal tribe of Odisha

Of the 62 Odisha tribes, 15 are known to covet combs, which have different uses in different communities. Among the Juang community for instance, combs are a favourite with boys who gift it to girls to decorate their hair. Others such as Santhals and Dangarias do not sell their combs fearing divine retribution. The Kutias like to gift it to young brides. They even turn Koya bead miniature combs into necklaces.

No two combs are the same; some are sought for their artistic value, some for the material they are made of (ox and buffalo horns, cloth and even palm sap) and others for their magic powers. Some are also worshipped. To gift it is to wish happiness, to steal it is to bring disaster on oneself. To buy it is to revise your worldview.