Friday, July 22, 2011

Indian Beauty Rituals for Both Sexes

The Ritusamhara (approx. 400 AD), a classic poem of India, describes the beauty regimens taken up by women of the time:

“With their soft hips covered with beautiful fabrics and wrappings, their breasts perfumed with sandalwood, covered with necklaces and jewels, and with hair perfumed from the bath, the beautiful women coax their lovers to burning desire.”

But men were not exempt from such personal care rituals. Great care was taken to beautify the men of higher castes. In the Kama Sutra (approx. 400 AD), the daily preparations are described:

“He must get up early in the morning, answer the calls of nature, wash his teeth, smear his body with just a little fragrant paste, inhale fragrant smoke, wear some flower, just give the lips a rub with wax and red juice, look at his face in the mirror, chew betel leaves along with some mouth deodorants, and then attend to his work.”

But of all the male beauty rituals, none were more elaborate than the king’s. One Sanscrit author, Someshvara (1130 AD), describes the bath in vivid detail, even down to the architecture of the room. The pillars of the apartment would have been artistically painted. Beautiful female attendants would wash the ruler’s body with warm water, and his hair would be washed with the fragrant pulp of amalaka (Indian gooseberry), then rinsed.

After his body was dry, athletes would massage the king and a fragrant oil would be applied by the beautiful female attendants. The oil was comprised of sesame oil, jasmine, coriander, cardamom, holy basil, costus, pandanus, agarwood, pine, saffron, champac, and clove. The king would then be dressed in a clean cotton garment, ready for the day.

Source: Morris, Edwin T. Fragrance: The Story of Perfume from Cleopatra to Chanel. New York, 1984. p 94.

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