The Kohl Connection


A survey by Cosmopolitan India reveals that about 47% of women in India feel that their favorite winter beauty product is Kajal (kohl). Out of lipsticks and tinted moisturizers- things which are almost absolutely necessary in the winter season, kajal- something which has no season and no particular necessity today  beats the essentials and wins the race. But am I surprised by this? Not really.

Kajal has been a part of women’s lives in India for centuries. Since ancient times, women and children have worn the kajal to decorate their eyes, to protect them from dust and even as a coolant and strengthener for the eyes in the tropical climate of the country. Egyptian queens wore Kajal for practically the same purposes. Kajal has also been believed to be a protector from the ‘evil eye’ in some traditions of India, and thus, as soon as an infant is born, a big dot of kajal is put on his cheek or his eyes are lined with it to prevent any mishappening to the newly-born.

Thus, since time immemorial, that black, sticky paste has been a part of perhaps every Indian’s life, be it a man or a woman, a child or a teenager.

But the kind of relationship a woman shares with the kajal is unique. For the woman, there is a trust that she puts in the kajal that it will make her eyes look big and attractive, in turn making the woman seem appealing. To some women, like me, it gives a sense of empowerment…a sign that I have grown up from a child into a woman and now it is time to take care of myself. Even though I do not wear makeup too often, I do wear kajal before I step out of the house for it gives me a sense of completion.

For some women, wearing the kajal is a part of a daily ritual. Every morning, they wake up, take a bath, wear their saris and then line their eyes with kajal. The lipstick is not the most important thing here in India, but kajal is. It symbolises a woman’s inner and outer beauty and confidence.

I think the kajal is also a celebration of the spirit of the woman, her beauty and the fire within her. Perhaps I feel so because after so many centuries of the association between the kajal and the woman, the kajal eventually comes to symbolize the woman.

But this does not mean that the kajal was only worn and appreciated by the females in our society. The kajal has always been seen as a mark of power. Kings and members of the royal court, as well as the common folk have worn the kajal for ages. Dramatists have used kajal to add more drama and colour to their eyes, attire and the stage. Our gods and goddesses have been represented while wearing the kajal. Who can forget the potrayal of Durga in her fericious avatar- Kali by scores of artistes in movies, TV shows, books…? Narada and Krishna, the sadhus and sevaks…all would be seen wearing the kajal at all times.

Wearing the kajal was always, thus, a way of life for us Indians. It has always been a part of our days and customs. Even as the use of kajal by men is now limited, the women and their relationship with kajal continues to grow. Everyday, hundreds of women, young and old, line their eyes carefully with their little pinkie finger or with sticks of kajal and then feel completely dressed (to kill?).

So much so, that the use of kajal has even been copied and spread to other parts of the world. Punk and Rock bands all over the world create new looks by using the kajal in different ways. The eyeliner has become the new and trendy avatar of the kajal and is used by women all over the world.

But there is something about this indigenous paste that even the modern liquid eyeliners can’t beat. Given a choice to put eyeliner on my eyes, or kajal, I will, like many other women I suppose, will go for the kajal and not eyeliner. I am not sure about the others, but I can never trust an eyeliner as much as kajal. The mere look of the eyeliner package screams out ‘Chemicals’! Also, the personal feeling that the look of the kajal gives-the idea that someone has probably worked hard to mix all the ingredients by hand (even though now they are probably all machine-operated) in the right proportions and given the black soot his blessing, just makes me grab a kajal stick instead of the shiny eyeliner wand. Moreover, speaking from a beutician’s point of view, the kajal is a more useful product than an eyeliner. It serves the purpose of decorating both the upper eye and the lower. Smudge it a bit and it becomes an eyeshadow and gives your eyes that sexy, smoky look. So instead of using 4 different products for the eye…i just use 1 and end up looking equally ravishing as I would using the other 4 chemical products.

Perhaps this close connection and long relationship with the kajal has resulted in the preference and love for kajal by many many women in India. No doubt about the fact that this relationship still has a long way to go and will remain in the hearts of hundreds of women for a long time to come.


4 thoughts on “The Kohl Connection

  1. I’ve read your blog quite a bit but for some reason I never made the connection that you were from India >.< Nor did I know they had a Cosmo India…so awesome!

    I've never heard of kajal before, but it sounds amazing that it is so multi-functional. So is it a natural paste? I go through eyeliner like no other so this actually sounds like something I may try out.

  2. Haha! Yes misstaing…I am an Indian 🙂
    I think the Indian Cosmo is pretty new, most people aren’t aware of it…but we are catching up.
    Yes, kajal is sort of a paste which is made from burning an oil lamp all night and collecting the soot later and mixing it with castor oil or ghee (clarified butter).
    Because it is a paste, it becomes easier to work with the kajal: smudge it/make finer lines and thus, it becomes a multi-purpose cosmetic!
    Maybe you can look for it in an Indian shop if there is one around your place. As far as I know, most countries have special shops for Indian stuff these days. I hope you like kajal as much as eyeliner.

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