Kajal; Ancient Eye Cosmetic


Kajal; a Very Important Ancient Cosmetic for the Eyes

By Pankaj Bhalerao

The ‘Kajal’ is a very important ancient cosmetic for the eyes. It is an essential eye makeup which has been in tradition from the very olden days. The kajal is basically a cosmetic for the women and girls, but in India, it has always been used for the infants and children as well no matter whether a boy or a girl. Even now, many tribal men are seen to wear kajal.

The other popular names of kajal are the ‘Kohl’, ‘Kol’, ‘Kehla’, ‘Koha’, ‘Surma’, etc. In the olden days, kajal were made at home serving the purpose of eye ointments only to protect the eyes from various eye infections. Later on, it developed to become an essential part of the makeup kit for the females.

The origins of kajal have been found from the Bronze Age around some 4,000 years ago. The Egyptian queens were very fond of cosmetics and kajal was an essential commodity for them. In the ancient times, it was said that the use of kajal or the darkening around the eyes gives protection to the eyes from harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun. This is one of the reasons why the modern glares are made up of dark colored glasses.

Still today, many mothers in the Indian homes put kajal to the infants eyes as it is believed that kajal strengthens the eyes and it also acts as a powerful agent in warding off the curse of the evil eyes of people in and around the child. So kajal has also been associated with superstitions too.

Some mothers also apply kajal on the navel of the infant as well as a small dot on the forehead of the child, the reason being same – warding off malefic effects of evil eyes and making the eyesight of the infant stronger. The application of kajal is a very strong tradition practiced all over Indian nearly by all.

The application of kajal has become a fashion statement nowadays. People in the early days used to prepare kajal at home. For this, a clean muslin cloth would be taken which was generally of white color and had to be dipped in a sandalwood decoction. After that, it had to be dried in places where it is shady. Then, a wick was made out of the thin muslin cloth and was used to light an earthen lamp filled with castor oil. Then the fire of the lamp was covered with a brass vessel just leaving enough space for the oxygen needed to burn the lamp.

After being burnt for the whole night, the soot or the black residue collected on the brass vessel was stored in a clan box by adding a few drops of ghee (clarified butter) or castor oil to it. This was the homemade kohl which is considered to be much better than the chemical kajal available in today’s markets. The homemade kajal are safe for the eyes as all the things used in this kajal have properties which are totally medicinal.

In West Bengal, the ‘Monosha’ plant is used for the making of kajal. The only thing that is of great concern while choosing a kajal, is to see that it is not a lead contaminated product, which can harm the eyes and lead to blindness. Times have changed now and many people are against this ancient tradition of putting kajal. Many eye specialists ask the people to avoid using kajal because of it so-called harmful effects.

A friend of mine who is an eye specialist says that it is equal to putting soot or dust into one’s eyes. My mom used to force me to put kajal as she believed that it is a very important cosmetic which enhanced a girl’s beauty. She also thought that it improved the eyesight – as told to her by my grandma. In this way, this tradition of using kajal was being passed from generation to generation.

A few days back, I couldn’t stop laughing my heart out when I saw my servant Kanta Bai’s son who is just 6 months old. She had decorated his whole face with polka dots of the kajal and it was really a funny sight. On asking her she said that it was to ward off evil effects of the people’s eyes on him and to protect him from malefic effects of evil omens in the surroundings.

So it can be seen that the tradition of kajal is still very much in the air, not only by the ultra modern models and actresses of the urban world but also among the slum dwellers.

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