I was wondering how to tie a braid(tribraid or others?) and when to keep the shikha, (choti or tuft of hair) or when to tie it and when to leave it as it is. Are there any texts/scripture recommendations I should consult regarding how and when I should do this?
Before doing Nitya karmas (daily rituals) and other Vedic rituals tying the Shikha is mandatory.
Here is the importance of tying the Shikha from scriptures:
A twice-born, who stands without washing his feet, or who performs the Achamanam without binding the tuft of his hair on the crown or without putting on his sacred thread, is impure. (15)
Samvarta Smriti's Chapter 1.
One must always put on the sacred thread and bind the tuft of hair on the crown : what one does without having the sacred thread on or without binding the tuft of hair on the crown, is equal to an act not done.
Katyayana Smriti's Chapter 1.
The Nitya Karma Puja PrakAsh book gives the following relevant mantras or slokas:
Never do any of the following acts without tying the shikhA : Bath, Charity, Japa (chanting Mantras), Homa (fire rituals), Sandhya and Devata Puja. (Sloka 1 translation )
[This mantra/sloka to be chanted while tying the shikhA]: Chidrupini ! MahAmaye ! Dvijatejo samanvite , Tishtha Devi ShikhAmadhye Tejovriddhim Kurusva me.
Hey Devi who is Chidrupini, Mahamaya, and who is comprised of the energy of the Dvijas, stay here (in the Shikha) and increase my valor. (Sloka 2 translation)
As, per the book cited, one should do the daily acts in the following order:
Evacuations, Cleansing of teeth, Bathing, , Shikha Bandhana, Achamana, Tilak Dharana etc (Refer to page 52).
Now, as per the book called the Brihat Vishuddha Nitya Karma Puja Paddhati, that i have, there is a slight variation in the order;
It says, first one should do Tilaka first and then do the ShikhA Bandhana. Also, that the Dvijas (twice borns) should chant the Gayatri mantra while tying it.
The book says, everyone,including the non-initiates also should tie Shikha before holy rites.
The Sudras and women should tie their ShikhAs while chanting the following Sloka:
Namo BrahmavAni SahsrAni ShivavAni ShatAni Cha | VishnornAmasahsrena ShikhAbandhanam Karomyaham ||
And, the ShikhA Vimochana mantra ( the shikha to be untied while chanting this mantra) for them is this:
Gacchantu Sakala DevA Brahma-Vishnu-MaheswarAh | TishthatvatrAchalA Lakshmih Shikhamuktam Karomyaham ||