Notes on Antique Textiles, Folk Art & Timeless Traditions – Jaina Mishra
In the olden days in West & North India everyone – men women, children AND infants had their eyes anointed with Kajal or Kohl or Meysh. The closest equivalent word in the English language is ‘eyeliner’.
Kajal is made by lighting a lamp and collecting the particles in the smoke on some surface. The oil is usually castor oil and the surface is usually a flat metal – preferably silver.
I’ve watched this done at home and used that home-made kajal in my eyes.
As is the case in almost every item that has earned he right to be called “traditional”[ i.e has survived the test of adoption by many subsequent generations] – Kajal too offers benefits beyond mere cosmetic ones and offers good optic health & wellness!
Since it would be unfair to deprive men of such wellness benefits, men wore kajal too!
And infants too!
After their full-body oil massage followed by a hot bath and aromatic smoke rituals, infants had (and still have) their little eyes pried open to apply some kajal with the ring finger of the right hand.
Now, given that eyes can be extremely sensitive, it was important to ensure the purity of this material.
This was done by making fresh kajal every day. And since silver has purifying properties, a silver receptacle was preferred.
Normally the bottom of a bowl sufficed but eventually special Kajal Makers were hand crafted especially for this purpose:
The Kajal collects in the cavity and the lid is used to keep it covered afterwards. This object, created in service of the tradition was a functional one.
Until one day an artist came along and decided to add some art! After all – why allow anything to be merely useful when it could also be beautiful!
And so we have this:
This superbly crafted piece with graceful lines is as artsy as it is useful!
I envy the people of the past whose daily lives contained such pretty things as a matter of routine!
But it is said that it is we, the people of the new era who are more advanced.
Yet, our destiny has us using ready-made kajal that comes in little boxes made of bright green plastic!
But sure – we are more advanced!!