9. A Little Lipstick Goes a Long Way: Chit-chatting with Women in the Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata
Soulless Matter, Seats of Energy - Metals, Gems and Minerals in South Asian Traditions - Fabrizio Ferrari
Deeksha Sivakumar [+]
Often times the word cosmetic connotes a superficial beautification of appearance. Once applied, mineral makeup can mask imperfections and make you more attractive. My analysis of two conversations that occur in Valmiki’s Rāmāyaṇa and the Mahābhārata, will contend that cosmetics in the Hindu textual world appear hardly cosmetic, going skin-deep. Makeup techniques and the appropriate unguents and minerals are usually guarded and shared in confidence. In the Mahābhārata’s Virāṭaparvan, Satyabhama, competing for Krishna's attention with his many lovers, approaches Draupadi for advice on these womanly matters. In a confidential exchange Draupadi tells Satyabhama that the key to managing the attention of all five Pānḍava brothers is to “worship your husband wearing your costly flowers and jewels and makeup and scents.” The potential of learning a good makeup trick or two is a real asset for a woman, helping her acquire and keep her partner, or as Draupadi suggested, ensuring your husband’s affection and obedience. A youthful complexion is also cultivated by employing age-defying creams. In Valmiki’s Rāmāyaṇa, an older wife Anasuya gives the new bride Sita a special ointment to preserve eternal beauty, initiating her to cosmetics and their application. In my interpretation minerals are pivotal to arranging and maintaining personal and social relationships between a man and his wife. The sensorial experiences of mineral makeup -- through implication -- render Rama and the five Pānḍavas as connoisseurs aroused by well adorned women, and attractable through makeup. Mineral cosmetics and adorning one's self with makeup is hardly manipulative, but rather positively transforms marital relationships.