After the death of a man (husband), the wife (widow) is not allowed to wear bangles, kumkum (sindhur) and is asked to wear white saree & shave her head. Is there any reference for such a practice in scriptures? And what is the purpose of such a custom?
I could not find the exact reference of not using saree of any other colors except white. EDIT-On the contrary I found from here that widow women should wear yellow atleast while performing a specific Vrata. So, whether scriptures at all prescribe widows wearing white garments is debatable.
It is prescribed that ceratin Vratas are meant to be observed by women only. For example women can get the punya obtained by men by observing the Aswamedha Yagya if they dedicatedly observe the "Ananta Triteeya Vrata" in winters... The married women to wear red clothes while widows yellow hued clothes. The unmarried women(girls) should wear only white clothes.
But shaving off heads are mentioned(pg-20) in a book called Dharma Bindu: Dharma Bindu contains the essence of all Dharma Shastras.
As a husband passes away and the widow observes the regulations of widowhood, the woman concerned shall most certainly enjoys a high level of conjugal happiness in her ensuing life. Since a widow is distinguished as being one, it is preferred that her head hair is removed forever, takes a single meal a day and refrain from a second meal that day! She should not use fragrances and not utilise flowers; every day she should perform tarpana with ‘tilodakas’ or black Tilas with water using ‘darbhas’. Those women who are widowed should consider as the diseased(deceased) husband as Vishnu himself and then her remaining life would be spent peacefully without problems and even though as of a woman of auspiciousness.
By "Maharshi" is meant Maharshi Vyasa. Apart from these I could not find anything else. And the exact Sanskrit verses in the image are probably from the Vyasa Smriti.
The Mahanirvana Tantra also lays down few rules the widow has to follow. One such rule is she must avoid wearing colored clothes which implies that white clothes are recommended for her.
The widow should not eat twice a day, nor should she eat food cooked by one who is not her husband's Agnate; she should renounce sexual enjoyment, animal food, jewels, sleeping on soft beds, and coloured clothes (56).
The widow faithful to her Dharmma should not anoint herself with fragrant ointments, she should avoid village gossip, and should spend her time in the worship of the Deities and in the performance of Vratas (57)
Chapter 10; verses-56,57
Yes, some Purāṇas do prescribe widowed women to completely tonsure (shave) their head, and also wear white garments.
Consider the following verses from Skanda Mahā-Purāṇa & Nārada Mahā-Purāṇa respectively.
(i) Skanda Mahā-Purāṇa
- (a) Kāśī-khaṇḍa
विधवा कबरीबंधो भर्तृबंधाय जायते ।
शिरसो वपनं तस्मात्कार्यं विधवया सदा ॥ ७४ ॥
- The braided tresses of hair of a widow cause disaster to the husband. Hence a woman shall always get her hair shaved off.
(i) Skanda Mahā-Purāṇa
- (b) Vaiṣṇava-khaṇḍa
While glorifying the importance of Vaisnavas in a kingdom, Maharṣi Bhāradvāja says this -
सकेशा विधवा यद्वद्व्रतं स्नानविवर्जितम् ।
द्वादशी दशमीयुक्ता तथा राष्ट्रमवैष्णवम् ॥ ३६ ॥
- A kingdom without Vaiṣṇavas is like a widow with tresses of hair not removed or like Vrata (without taking) holy bath or like Dvādaśī with Daśamī overlapping it.
English Translation by G.V. Tagare.
(ii) Nārada Mahā-Purāṇa
गृहान्निष्क्रमणं स्त्रीणां मास्तु राज्ये मदीयके ।
मा सकेशा हि विधवा मास्त्वकेशा मभर्तृका ॥ ३३ ॥
- May not be there coming out of women from their houses in my country. May not the widows keep their tresses intact. May not the ladies with their husbands alive be devoid of hairs.
English Translation by Motilal Banarsidass Publishers
So, from the above two excerpts, it is clear the scriptures prescribe widows to tonsure their heads completely.
Although, I did not find an explicit verse prescribing white clothes for widow, however, in the Padma Mahā-Purāṇa a verse prescribes white clothes for some vratas.
Padma Purāṇa Verse 1.22.69
विधवा शुक्लवस्त्रं वै त्वेकमेव हि धारयेत् ।
कुमारी शुक्ल सूक्ष्मे च परिदध्यात्तु ॥ ६९ ॥
- A widow should put on one white garment only. A. maiden should put on two white, fine garments.
English Translation by N.A. Deshpande
So, as per this excerpt, in certain vratas at least, a widow must wear white clothes only.