The Colour of Skin

s2s1s6s5s3 s4The red glow of her body, like an unfolding bud.

Her black rimmed eyes like flowers, her skin like gold.

Who can see your face in the moonlight, like milk in milk.

Her lustrous complexion like a blue sapphire.

Fair as champaka flowers.

Dusky young lady with sweet speech and lovely face, Broad hips, body painted with excellent sandal paste.

Her face is like the moon, (Just so).

In the poem ‘Madhuvan’, while describing the beauty of the face of a lady, the poet chooses the reddish objects like the pink morning, the reddish new leaf, the blush on the cheek, the pink lotus, the rose, the blood, the flame coloured Palash.

Colour, fragrance and softness all merge in her; a rose petal on her cheeks loses its identity.

Her hue is golden and the saffron paste mingles indistinguishably with her complexion, only its fragrance proves its existence.

Karpuraturistha – fair as camphor.

She is blue-complexioned and beautiful in every limb, having applied the sixteen elements of make-up.

Her nails bright as burnished copper.

The dark, divine maiden with great chastity.

The word used for ‘dark colour’ is shyama (deep green), and for indicating redness ‘lohita’.

There are many ways to describe skin colour in India. Limitations of language in translation notwithstanding Indian poets, never shy of employing a simile, appear to draw on an imagery that includes saffron, sandalwood, camphor, sapphire, copper and more.  Similarly miniature painting employs a number of skin tints, especially when it comes to the raginis.  So it is a little sad that these days we are stuck with the polarities of gora/kala (fair/dark) with saavla/gehua/maanaram/”wheatish” to describe everything in between.

Pics: Todi Ragini (1), Jaipur courtesan (2), Indian women at a well (3), Standing figure under a kadamb tree (4), 18th century, Mandi (5), Untitled, B. Prabha (6).

Posted in 17th century, 18th century, 19th century, 20th century, Ancient India, Art, Colonial, Contemporary, Culture, Early 20th Century, fashion, Girls, historical art, historical fashions, in Colour, indian art, Indian fashion, Indian Women, miniature paintings, Paintings, Sets, Shringaar, vintage art, vintage fashion, vintage illustrations, vintage style | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vintage Illustration

1Tamil caption loosely translated: The two men in the background sporting a kudumi  – “We are now fashionable (or fashion has taken inspiration from us). No one dare tease us anymore.”  from Ananda Vikatan, 1962.

I also found this illustration while doing the posts and it made me laugh a little since I *might* have this woman’s hairstyle at the moment.

The blouse with a wide V and three quarters sleeves is very late 50s/early 60s.

Posted in 1960s, ananda vikatan, fashion, Fashion Quote, Hair, Hairstyles, Illustration, Indian fashion, Indian men, Indian Women, Magazine, retro fashion, retro hair, Sari, Sari Blouse, Tamil, Vintage, Vintage Blouse, vintage hair, Vintage Illustration, vintage illustrations, Vintage Magazine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments


When I was composing the hair posts, my brother, Shiv, decided to do an illustration of Jabakusum Hair Oil for the blog. Here is the illustration:


He joined tumblr to post it (hinotoridawn) but I don’t think he quite likes the site as yet:)

Posted in Art, Bengal, fashion, Hair, Illustration, Indian fashion, vintage hair | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

All About Hair

I had a bit of a meandering look at the history of hairstyles in India on tumblr and as always this post collates it on wordpress.

curnakuntala (Sanskrit): locks or ringlets hair style.
alaka-avali (Sanskrit): hair arrangement in spiral locks
dhammilla (Sanskrit): hair bun

You could blame the Greeks but for a period of time everyone in the subcontinent was seemingly mad for curls. And ringlets and waves and completely improbable spherical somethings (though the last was probably confined to sculpture).  The beginnings seem to be in Gandharan art and representations of the Buddha but curls and elaborate coiffures appear in sculpture, literature and art for at least a few centuries later in different parts of the sub continent. The Gupta Age is probably the most classical style (see also X), the curls gradually disappearing from Indian art over later centuries.

Apart from the curls, the elaborate hair bun (I think the dhammiila is similar to the modern day khopa) was all the go. To this you could – if you wished – pin dupattas, flowers or jewels to give a style that recurs throughout Ancient Indian art.

In the pics: 1- Head of Parvati from Ahichhatra, U.P. 5th century,  2 – detail from 12th century sandstone from Madhya Pradesh, 3 – Ajanta fresco.

1O your hair, he said,
It is like rainclouds
moving between branches of lightning.
It parts five ways
between gold ornaments
braided with a length of flowers
and the fragrant screwpine. From the Kalithokai, translated by AK Ramanujam.

I have probably seen this photograph all over the internet but it also probably best fits the poem (bar the screwpine).

The five different hair styles usually mentioned in Sanskrit and Tamil texts include hair in a knot, hair gathered in a bun, hair curled, hair parted and hair plaited. The last, the veni, as everyone is aware has a long history and is often embellished with flowers and jewels.

The beauty and eroticism of wet hair – loose, yet to be braided, perhaps perfumed a little after a bath – recurs throughout Indian art and literature. Almost always the setting is outdoors, whether natural or landscaped.

Sanskrit literature is much given to conceits – with wet hair it plays on the beauty of water drops wrung from hair. Women drying their hair after their bath are usually depicted with a hamsa – the bird mistakes the water drops for pearls. Not entirely clear but depicted in the 8th-11th century sculpture from Morena, UP  in pic 1 and here.

Wet hair and beauty rituals of the bath are also seen in a number of miniature paintings like in pic 2 (18th century, Bikaner or Deccan).

Then again in colonial paintings as in pic 3 (Bengali woman wringing out her hair after bathing).

The early 20th century boasts a number of paintings titled After the Bath. One amongst several similarly titled works of  Hemen Mazumdar (pic 4).

Pic 5: Contemporary photograph via Getty Images.

12the sight of me combing my long hair
brings you back to your country
where you tell me
girls sit in the open air
combing each other’s hair.  Poem for an Indian Scholar, Crazy Melon and Chinese Apple, The Poems of Frances Chung.

Perhaps it is the nature of miniature painting but for most of the 16th-19th century hairstyles are flat and either depicted loose or plaited (also in company paintings/Kalighat paintings.). As always with Indian hair jewels and flowers are present minimally or in abundance.  In miniature paintings additionally hair is often partially covered with an odhni.

The second painting depicts a nayika whose lover/husband is devoted to her (swadhinabhartruka).  Often paintings depict these nayikas having their foot decorated or having their hair dressed. This can also be seen in sculpture (e.g. Shringhar, Kushan period) but in miniature paintings the nayika and her lover are usually Radha and Krishna.

Pic 1 (Hyderabad, 1840)Pic 2: Kangra, 18th century.

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simanta (sanskrit): sima + anta – boundary line/hair parting.

The hair parting itself may be a decorative aspect of the Indian hairstyle.  Additionally flowers or jewellery can be arranged along the parting (e.g. mang tikka as in pic 3 where a pendant is added and also substitutes for the bindi).  Apart from the decorative aspect, there are ritual aspects to the hair parting. E.g. the sindoor as a mark of marriage (on Konkona) in some parts of India or the simantonnayana (arranging the parting of the hair) ceremony.  See also X.

In the pics: Sulochana, Konkona Sen Sharma, Sitara Devi.

Their hair shimmered with an intense shine
and gave off a beautiful scent. Virsinghdev Charit, Keshavdas.

The hero was handsome
with oiled, curly hair, on which
fragrant pastes and perfumes
had been rubbed. The Handsome Hero, Kurinjipattu

You didn’t step out without a slather of hair oil, preferably scented, up until the middle of the 20th century in India.  Advertisements of the 40s and 50s promised black, glossy and groomed hair, many products were also strongly scented. Sometimes they made use of new ingredients like the glycerine of pic 3, sometimes they played on Indian tradition.

Pic 2 is for Himani.

1 2A look at hairstyles in a brief window of time: 1930s-1960s.

1930s: MS Subbulakshmi’s naturally wavy hair, a bit of finger wave for Miss Gohar.
1940s: The double choti on Baby Sulochana, perhaps a bit of a perm/roll for Brijmala.
1950s: Plaits and ribbons for Vyjayanthimala, a bit of wave and hairband for Roopmala.
1960s: Asha Parekh in a bun encircled with flowers, Unknown lady in a piled high hairdo.

1And even now, instead of working, I visualise her, a pale silhouette in a sari of blue silk, all interwoven with gold thread. And her hair! The Persians were right, in their poetry, to compare women’s hair to snakes. What will happen? I do not know. Maitreyi, Mircea Eliade.

Though there is many an Indian song dedicated to it, in my view the beauty of unbound tresses is most seen in Bengal (normally seen on younger women, older women tend to tie the hair in a bun or plait). Not the heavily styled and waved kind, just the natural fall and flow of tresses.  Usually it is worn unadorned but Mrinalini and Lotika, the daughters of Manmohan Ghose, have styled it with ribbons as was common in the late 19th/early 20th century. This is probably late 1910s or early 1920s.

Pic Source. See also X, X, X.

1Some forms of hair decoration (e..g the gajra) predominate in India. Like leaves are sometimes worn as a hair ornament in tribal communities in India (X, X). Flowers with elongated petals that resemble leaves are also worn. The arrangement of flowers of this sort, e.g. palash which is worn in the hair or lotus as in this painting is similar to the sun ray like hair ornaments often seen in vintage photos.

The painting: Charm of the East, AR Chughtai.

For previous posts on hair styles and decoration, see:

The 70s updosIn the 60s; The 60s bun; 1950s Ribbons; The evolution of ribbons; The 1950s hair style guide; The Jabakusum ad; The gajra post; Flowers in the hair; The plait; Nair hairstyles; Medieval Karnataka.

Posted in 1600s, 16th Century, 1700s, 17th century, 1800s, 18th century, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 19th century, 20th century, Accessories, Ancient India, Art, Asia, Bengal, Bollywood, Colonial, Contemporary Style, Culture, Dance, Dancer, fashion, Flowers, Hair, historical fashions, historical hairstyles, History, indian art, Indian fashion, Indian History, Indian men, Indian Women, Jewellery, Medieval India, miniature paintings, Old Bollywood, Paintings, regional styles, retro, retro hair, Sanskrit Literature, Sculpture, Sets, Tamil, Tumblr, Vintage, vintage hair, vintage jewellery | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Buddhism Post

I had done this set of posts starting on Buddha Purnima on tumblr but it’s taken me till now to collate it on WP.  In some ways posts are more coherent on WP so despite the delay here it is.  As always it is not definitive but looks at parts of the Buddha’s life via various genres of painting. As for the costumes expect a heavy reliance on Ajanta art.

1The flowers of the flame trees, Which resemble parrots’ beaks, Make the ground resplendent, Like a congregation of monks Prostrate in worship at the feet Of the Buddha. [X]

For 4 May (Buddha Purnima).   Pic: Monks in Singapore. 2Painting at Bellanwila Rajamaha Vihara in Sri Lanka by Somabandu Vidyapathy (the murals were painted between 1990 and 1998). Buddhist temples usually have murals depicting the stages of the life of Buddha – I think this represents the marriage of Siddhartha and Yashodhara. A number of modern murals depicting Buddhist life draw on the costumes seen in Ajanta. 3The Great Departure of Buddha, Tempera on Paper, 1942 ( Manindra-Bhushan Gupta). This painting is evocative of miniature paintings with its detailed landscape and the pavilion with the sleeping Yashodhara and Rahul. The costumes are similar to depictions of Mauryan costumes. 4Yokoyama Taikan works depicting I think Sujata and the temptations of Mara. Again the costumes of the women have a lot of Ajanta/Ajanta as interpreted in the early 20th century influences.  I love the delicacy of this – Taikan visited India at one point and his influence is seen in early Bengal watercolours with a “wash technique”.

See also Roma Mukerji’s Amrapali. 5Yashodhara and Rahul meet the Buddha, circa 1880.  This is probably from a set made by students at the Bombay School of Art who made a number of copies of the Ajanta cave paintings between 1872 and 1885 when J. Griffiths was the Principal. The costumes therefore directly reference Ajanta art.

6[Mara:] That place the sages gain is hard to reach A mere woman can’t get there.

[Soma:] What harm is it to be a woman when the mind is concentrated and the insight is clear. [X]

Thai painting of Dhammadinna Bhikkhuni [X].  For more on women Buddhists see BhikkunisWomen in Buddhist texts. Rengetsu. For a discussion of Himalayan Buddhist Art go here.
Posted in 1880s, 1900s, 1940s, 1990s, Ancient India, Art, art recreation, Asia, Buddhism, Colonial, Costume, Culture, Early 20th Century, East Asia, historical art, historical costume, historical dress, History, Illustration, India, indian art, Indian Dress, Indian History, Indian men, Indian Women, Japan, Late 19th century, Paintings, Philosophy, Religion, Sanskrit Literature, Sari, Sri Lanka, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Regional Cinema Post

For very many reasons Bollywood is Indian cinema.  Now and then regional cinema makes a splash – especially at the National Awards – but for the most part the audiences are local.  You could however argue that all the interesting stuff happens in regional cinema, this was true even back in the day (I really miss the Sunday afternoon hour on DD2 which was regional cinema time). So here’s a little sampler – ideally I would have preferred to feature something other than a Tamil film from the South but here we go. 2 1Kumki (Tamil) and its heroine, Lakshmi Menon, are absolutely beautiful to look at. And I am a sucker for that weed flower jewellery. In the pics: goat weed ring and aster weed earrings. Captures from Onnum Puriyala, Kumki.

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Postcard (Marathi) seems an interesting film but I can’t find very much on it and am completely uncertain about the decade it is set in. Note that the trailer seems to indicate a 1960s postmark. But the puff sleeves – and Radhika Apte seems to basically wear just these blouses outside of her dance costume – evokes the late 30s/40s.

Warm pink, orange and red. Dupattas and the salwar kameez. Its the 80s in Punjab. Sonam Bajwa and Diljit Dosanjh in stills of Punjab 1984 (Punjabi).  I like the warm palette of this movie.

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Leipaklei (Manipur) is from the director of Imagi Ningthem. The first is based on a play, the latter is based on a novel. The innaphi (wrapper) of Manipuri dress is usually diaphanous. Here the wrap is more like a chador or shawl. I am probably biased because I love the Manipuri aesthetic but I love the muted colours here, especially the off white, checked innaphi. Stills from [X, X, X].

Posted in 21st century, Accessories, Actor, Cinema, Contemporary, contemporary fashion, Contemporary Style, Culture, fashion, Film Costuming, Flowers, Indian Cinema, Indian Dress, Indian fashion, Indian Women, Jewellery, Manipur, Marathi cinema, North East, North East India, Period Drama, Punjab, regional styles, Sari, Sari Blouse, Sets, South Indian Cinema, Tamil Cinema, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The North-East Post

This doesn’t cover all the North Eastern states of India neither is it chronological or thematic. Rather it’s a North East sampler that includes a fair bit of dance forms in the North-East.

1The components of the Manipuri dance costume include a) kumin (the bright skirt) b) pasuan (gauzy overskirt) c) khwangyet (cloth belt) 4) meikhumbi (veil) and 5) koktumbi (tapering cap). Collectively the costume is called potloi.

While the stiffened skirt and frilled overskirt are now seen as characteristic of Manipuri costume and is also the bridal dress (though the overskirt is not frilled here), it’s history is fairly recent. See for e.g. manipurtalks and minai’s post. The kumin is a variant of  the phanek and seems to have acquired a cylindrical form for most of the 20th century. Though the simpler version is around for awhile as in this 1954 pic.

For more Manipuri costumes in paintings see here.


2 Monks from the old Kamalabari sattra impersonating gopis in Chali Nritya at the first All India dance seminar at Vigyan Bhavan, New Delhi, 1958. Pic source: Sangeet Natak Academy in X.

Traditionally Sattriya nritya was performed by monastic communities and female parts were performed by men as in this photograph (click for larger view). Now it is performed by men and women and outside the sattras or monasteries..

Per Mallika Kandali every Sattriya dance has its own dress code which is strictly followed in the sattras. But on the contemporary stage “ek-aharya” (single costume) prevails. Even here there is some difference from costumes of the 50s but a contemporary costume would include a ghuri (ghaghra) of pat silk, a riha (upper wrap) placed on both sides on the chest and a blouse. A belt with strips (kanci) completes the dress.

I did spot the velvet embroidered jacket in one contemporary costume but it is also a bit of its time given the popularity of embroidered velvet in the early 20th century.

Present day Majuli.

Given that States/Union Territories participate in the cultural part of the Republic Day parade in rotation, it appears that the North-East was well represented in 1956. In today’s photoset from photodivision, the folk dancers are from Sikkim,  Assam (Jaintia*), Manipur and NEFA**. Not many happy faces apart from cheerful Sikkim girl wearing a wristwatch:)

Some beautiful textiles and jewellery in there. These are not representative of the entire state given that there are a number of tribal communities in North-East India.

Other states: Nagaland (1960), Tripura (2011), Mizoram (2011).

*Now Meghalaya.
**NEFA, now Arunachal Pradesh.

Naga Girls-1956 and contemporary.

I am fairly sure the necklace of carnelian beads and silver flutes is indicative of the Ao Naga though probably not restricted to the Ao Naga – e.g the Tetseo sisters [X] wear it quite often.

Most folk will no doubt be aware of wearabout; it showcases some really cool northeast fashion.


Chalk and crayon sketch, Naga girl, 1955 by Lily Eversdijk-Smulders . She looks quite lovely and stylish.

I can’t quite identify the naga group based on contemporary  portraits, also wondering if  the ear ornament is rhododendron blossoms.

Posted in 1900s, 1950s, 20th century, Accessories, Art, Asia, Costume, Culture, Dance, Dancer, Early 20th Century, fashion, Folk Dance, Girls, indian art, Indian Dress, Indian fashion, Indian Textiles, Indian Women, Jewellery, North East, North East India, Paintings, photodivision, Photography, regional styles, retro, retro fashion, Tribal, Vintage Blouse, vintage costume, vintage fashion, vintage hair, vintage jewellery, vintage style, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments