The 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).