In most cultures beauty has been seen as an attribute of the divine. Satyam Shivam Sundaram. Truth is God and God is beautiful. All heroines of fairy tales are pretty, the villain is usually scruffy. God is beautiful, the devil ugly. The ancients believed that beauty was a talisman for good luck and fortune. Where there was beauty there was seen to be fertility. Bees and bulls were attracted to the most beautiful flowers and cows, resulting in more procreation, more productivity and hence more prosperity.
In ancient India, married women were literally forced to make themselves beautiful for festive occasions. This beautification involved bedecking the body with 16 charms or solah shingar in the ritually prescribed way. The word shingar means that process which makes the body or angah worthy of Goddess Lakshmi also known as ‘Shri.’
The ritual of beauty
Ritual beauty had less to do with how one looked and more with how one ornamented themselves. Ornamentation was ruthlessly enforced because a suitably ornamented woman, one dressed with anklets, armlets, bracelets, rings, toe rings, nose rings, necklace, sari and flowers attracted good luck for herself and her family. Beauty was considered a talisman for wealth as well as it’s indicator which is why in Hindu, Buddhist and Jain shrines, one often finds images of fat men(wealth) accompanied by ornamented women(beauty.)
Beauty in India goes beyond ornamentation. Look at the definitions of natural beauty in Kalidasa’s time. Moon faced, elephant-hipped, serpent-necked, antelope-footed, swan waisted, lotus-eyed. The image that comes before us is that of a soft voluptuous young girl bursting with sensual promises. What constitutes beauty has always varied with history and geography. In the Stone Ages, obese women were adored as they represented wealth, power, food and fertility. They inspired the carving of innumerable Venus figurines. But fat today is not beautiful if anything is deemed repulsive. It has been associated with ill health, slot and gluttony. In the east, ornamentation made a person beautiful while in the west, simplicity was the hallmark of beauty. There is a cultural divide in Indian and Euro-American brands.
Whatever the traditional or modern conventions standardize as the criteria of beauty, now is the time to shun it all and think freely from one’s mind and heart to define your definition of beauty. It does not need to tally with any prescribed criterion. It should more importantly convey your heart about what or who according to you can be deemed beautiful. Celebrate yourself for what you are. Beauty makes you feel superb in and out. In Greece, Christianity and Islam the beautiful seductress whether Eve, Delilah, Judith, Pandora or Helen brought trouble in her wake. In India, the Apsaras seduced the Rishis so that the monastic life could be abandoned and the material world with all it’s sensuality enjoyed to the brim. But now world has marched a long way ahead. Now some conceptions have thankfully changed. For starters, in the west, the modern beauty pageant is a thumbing of the nose to traditional religious austerity. We need to give a wider criteria base for the definition of beauty. It should not just mean skin deep fantasies but should encompass qualities, skills, attitudes, thinking etc. to be called as a beautiful person. Beauty can be seen from many viewpoints. For eg, while selling a beauty product today, it is important to see beauty in a cultural context. What does the consumer consider beautiful? Who is the judge? What purpose does beauty serve? How can one be called beautiful? So the definition of beauty takes in many subpoints to come up with a satisfying answer which is accepted by all.
The western nations are way ahead us in knowing about beauty and it’s versatility but we lag way behind them sadly. In India adhering to the age-old norms, simplicity is associated with widowhood, sorrow and bitterness, a refusal to enjoy life. The notion of being beautiful for one’s sake does not seem to be very popular in India. The aim of beauty is to get a response from the external world, to be constantly pleasing to the beholder’s eye. Outer beauty can always be seen. Inner beauty cannot always be noticed. Indians used to follow certain fixed, orthodox misconceptions about beauty and being beautiful. A widow could never be beautiful. She was a cursed being with a dark heart and she had to bear the brunt of life every second she survived. A woman defying the ugly, cruel, illogical myths and fantasies of Indian society was considered evil, someone who brought misfortune, who was a dark one and who was destined to suffer. This is a real frightening aspect towards the state and freedom of women which could be seen till a long time.
There come up so many questions in the minds of a modern and progressive person who does not wish to accept the blunt theories, stale and backward of our society. Beauty is no longer confined to the boundaries of predefined standards like skin color, facial attributes, class(being rich or poor) etc. It has risen above the backward ideas and means real ability, strength, fighter spirits, proper skills and qualities which will make living and life less complicated and stable. Being beautiful for me is being able to maintain normalcy and be able to handle situations, thereby giving bliss a chance to knock on our doors. It has a wider area to cover and beautiful is a real solid word holding lot of potential and power in itself. There should not be any confusion and doubts for anyone living in the 21st century about what is beauty and who can be considered beautiful. Because the answer is as simple as it could get. Being beautiful is that perfect state of mind and heat which gives you bliss, clarity of thoughts, promises of your ability that you will do justice to your life in the best way and satisfaction about your abilities. It sure is beautiful and it is there for everyone to cherish and feel proud of. Because everyone be it a black man, a dwarf man, a handicap or a broke fella, a fat lady, a rich lass or a maid each one is beautiful in his/her own right. Because God made everyone equal. If we could stop the stupid man-made discriminations. World is the home of all.
So let’s welcome brother and sisterhood and be humanitarians, feel for our folks and love each other. Because finally love is the most beautiful gift we got from God. And who give love, get love becoming the most beautiful creatures God too was proud of. Let’s make the universe proud of us all. Let us do what it takes to become the worthy best. Let us redefine beauty adding to it and spreading the essence of joy forever.