Once upon a time, for an Indian woman and more specifically for a married woman, dressing-up was a matter of pride and prestige. She would bathe not using soap but some home-made ubtan. Then she would do solah shringar or the sixteen steps of beautification from head to toe and that too, daily.
Commonly, solah shringar includes flowers to decorate the hair, pretty hairpins, bright clothes, alta/henna, necklace, earrings, finger rings, nose pin/ring, toe ring, bracelet/bangles, armlet, anklet, girdle, necklace, forehead ornament and a scented supari or paan for fresh breath and red pout. But that was back then, when women had all the time to do all that.
And here are we, the ‘modern’ bunch who have turned their backs to those sensible rituals. If some women cite lack of time as a reason to ignore the custom, for others it is more of a behenji thing to be do which goes against their ‘urban, refined and classy’ sensibilities. So even if the beautiful (and expensive) garbs picked off the racks from a fancy store compete to find their place in a new-age woman’s closet, a pair of traditional anklets won’t even make it to the shopping list.
If today, a woman dares to step out dressed up like a new bride, she would be tagged as a ‘Christmas tree’ by the so-called fashion police. Clearly, dressing up or the term ‘solah shringar’ has been reworded as dressing drab and is NOT a virtue in a wide range for down-town female’s lexicon. And this perhaps can be attributed to the colonisation of mindsets.
But the good ol’ solah shringar, just like any other ritual listed in the Hindu dharma shastras, is of prime importance for reasons that most of us have not cared to decipher. So, please allow me take this opportunity to shed some light on the weight of this age old practice.
For a married woman, solah shringar is not simply a sign of saubhagya (a woman whose husband is alive) but it also does its bit in pleasing the Goddess of bounty – Mahalakshmi. Ideally, a Hindu woman must honour the Goddess with shringar as it is considered as her sacred duty. Even in Treta Yuga, when Sita was taking off her jewels to join her husband Ram to the forest, she was strictly advised against doing so by the palace women owing to her marital status. And this advice holds true for single as well as widowed ladies too.
If all those arguments make some sense, then why not promise to ourselves to embrace the Indian beauty rituals from the days gone by, which has been affectionately passed down by our ancestors? The whole idea is to hold on to our customs before they cease to exist in this fast-changing world.
So, are you ready to go through those elaborate sixteen beauty rituals this karva chauth and Diwali?