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India against colorism

How Shyama and Krishna became 3 shades Fairer: A critical analysis of fair skin obsession in India

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The fair skin obsession in India is wide ranging, and alarming. One of the 2 most searched for skin care products on the Krya website is a skin lightening product for babies and a fairness product for women. Despite our refusal at Krya to engage with queries on fairness, we are asked for these products in very innocuous terms. Customers couch their requests for products seeking a “better glow” or “radiance” – when asked to explain this further, these queries quickly degenerate to this:

India's fair skin obsession is big business in India

“My skin is dark / black. I want something for fairness and glow”.

Even babies are not spared this color shaming. We are routinely asked for products that will change baby’s skin 3 – 4 shades fairer, even 3 – 4-month babies which have never seen the sun or gotten tanned.

A WHO report shared that nearly 60% of all Indians use some form of skin lightening product – only African countries like Nigeria beat us hollow in this statistic – there, nearly 77% of the population use a skin lightening product!

The Indian whitening industry is estimated at nearly 4 billion dollars and growing and whitening products include creams, face washes, whitening deodorants and shamefully even a whitening product for vaginas!

Skin Whitening products: Physical & Psychological Harm

Skin whitening products and the advertising around them leads to color-based shaming and creates deep insecurity and a lack of confidence among the users. The insidious advertising that shows dark skinned Men and Women getting rejected at job interviews, and by prospective partners leads to a deep feeling of shame and insecurity about our own skin color. Such advertising only feeds the fair skin obsession in India, leading a large majority of the population to look at their own genetic heritage with disdain and shame.

India's fair skin obsession leads to psychological harm

Compared to this psychological illness, any physical illness will pale in comparison. But the physical health issues are very high in such products.

Across the world, Cosmetics and skin care products are found to be toxic, full of dangerous materials and can have highly dangerous impact on health. This is not restricted to India or other developing countries alone.

If this is the case for cosmetics in general, then skin whitening creams can’t be far behind.

CSE tested fairness creams in 2015 to analyze them and detect the presence of Mercury, a common banned skin whitening agent. Mercury is prohibited for cosmetic use in India, except in eye care products. But yet, it was found in 44% of analyzed samples of whitening creams. 3 brands contained Mercury in excess of 1 ppm – 1 ppm is the maximum acceptable limit of Mercury in the U.S.

A 2012 research published African Journal of Biotechnology done in Nigeria reported that heavy metals like arsenic, lead and mercury were present across nearly all cosmetics available in the country.

In 2014, a study of lipstick brands across the U.S conducted by a team of researchers from California threw up high levels of heavy metals like titanium, manganese, aluminum, cadmium and chromium across samples of 32 brands of Lipstick available across the U.S. Shockingly, Lead was found in nearly 75% of the tested samples!

Nearly all of the lipstick applied by an average user is ingested or absorbed by the skin and these metals enter the body. On an average a woman applies lipstick at least twice a day (regular users), so they could be ingesting between 24 – 87 mg of lipstick per day. This meant that their daily intake of these dangerous heavy metals could be more than 20% of the accepted daily limit of ingestion of these materials.

Lipsticks contain high amount of toxic substances including Lead

So, we have 2 problems with skin whitening products: heavy psychological damage and actual physical harm. It is likely that many consumers are aware of the psychological damage; only few may be aware of the physical harm because ingredients like Mercury are not supposed to be a part of these products, neither are they declared or advertised to customers. But despite this obvious harm which customers may not be aware of, why do we persist with these products?

Fair skin obsession in India : Some theories

We have put forth 4 possible theories to explain the origins of the fair skin obsession in India. We then deconstruct each theory as viable or not.

  1. Is it an ancient , Indian bias for fair skin , that valued fair skin as being superior or more desirable that is consistently seen in our culture through references in art, literature, poetry , scriptures , painting etc ?

If we take these accounts as true, then India and Indian Men and women should have had a long-standing and widespread interest in fair skin. We should easily find examples reflected across art, poetry, songs, music, etc.

Similarly, we should see countless references to the benefits and methods of  producing fair skinned progeny or at least advice on transforming skin colour of adults  in our Medical texts from Ayurveda as well

     2. Is it due to inherent racial differences in Indian skin types wherein the more successful or high status groups of people also had fair skin ?

India’s traditional Varnashrama classification, based traditionally on occupation and heavily distorted and misused by the British as “Jati” has also been blamed for this obsession with fair skin in India. So, unverified reports quote that India’s entrenched caste system where “brahmins have light skin” is to blame for the obsession with fair skin in India.To hold this view, we must present solid evidence of melanin differences that are stark, and clearly seen across varshashramas or jatis. We will try to see if any evidence is strongly present in any scientific studies of Melanin markers across Indic populations.

3. Is it a deep-seated cultural bias , driven by European colonial rule that equated fair-skin with superiority ?

Are we victims of a colonial hangover of racism , consistently built over the last 300-400 years of European invasions into India by primarily British colonizers and to some extent the dutch , French & Portuguese etc. & further reinforced by such European colonization across Asia & Africa as well ?

4. The Fairness Creams Industry is a recent 40 year phenomenon driven by opportunistic brands to create a new industry , by targeted  TV campaigns and through subtle messaging across print,  TV serials and films to create a new craze for fair skin

is it really possible for brands to create such deep seated longing for fair skin and bias against darker skin by just TV campaigns in one generation , in the complete absence of any such bias already present in society ? was there a craze for fair skin in India well before the TV industry took off in the 80’s ?

Fair skin is an integral part of Beauty norms: Examples from China

Classical notions of beauty are very well entrenched across different forms of art. This forms a shared document, and a codification of what a culture holds as valued norms and standards. Such codifications are widely  present across different cultures, for example the Chinese and Japanese cultures.

Both these ancient cultures clearly display a culturally deep and long-standing interest in fair skin.

In China, the 10 attributes for Classical Beauty included having fair skin. We have references to a woodcut scroll called the “New Chants of a Hundred Beauties” first published in 1792, which describes the 10 Classical signs of Beauty valued among Chinese women. This interest in fair skin dates back to the Han dynasty which ruled China from 206 BC to 220 AD.

In fact, the woodcut scroll references Empress Zhao Feiyan or Empress Xiaocheng, an empress during the Chinese Han dynasty, ruling between 45 BC – 1 BC. She is considered one of the Four Great Beauties among Chinese Women. Their beauty attracted the attention of Emperors catapulting them to very high social status and power.

Empress Zhao one of the 4 beauties of China described as having snow white skin

Empress Zhao Feiyan is described as having a “slender waist and snow-white skin”  (细腰雪肤) – these attributes are among the 10 attributes of Beauty greatly wished for in Classical China.

This interest in White and pale skin is also reflected in Traditional Chinese Medicine.  The Bencao Gangmu, a medical text, records a pea soup formula for lighter, lustrous skin. A Ming Dynasty medical text , Introduction to Medicine (药入门) gives a herbal formula for lighter skin and also a soup called the “Three Whites Soup” which is to be drunk for pale and fair skin.

These attributes of Beauty also include the double eyelid with a crease in the small flap of skin that covers the eye. Interestingly, the double eyelid is present only in less than half the population (Depending upon geography). Hence a popular surgical option among Chinese Women is the East Asian blepharoplasty operation that creates the “double eyelid” – this procedure costs approximately 3000 USD. This aesthetic procedure is also very popular in Taiwan, South Korea and other parts of east Asia where this double eyelid is a codified cultural norm for beauty/

South China Morning post reports that the East Asian Blepharoplasty procedure is one of the most sought-after cosmetic procedures in the country. Cosmetic surgeons say in this report that this procedure is sought after to improve one’s chances at a job, getting into acting school or simply to fit in with the accepted cultural norm of beauty.

Codification of Fair skin in Japanese Culture

 Japanese culture uses a phrase 美白 or “Bihaku” which was coined in the early 1900s which means “beautifully white”. Despite the relative newness of this term, the concept of fair skin is extremely firmly and deeply rooted in Japanese culture from very ancient times. The preference for fair, blemish free skin forms a part of recorded Japanese literature from the 7th century AD. An ancient Japanese proverb states:

色の白いは七難隠す, iro no shiroi wa shichinan kakusu or White skin covers the seven flaws – meaning that even a relatively unattractive person with blemishes looks attractive with white / fair skin

 The codification of light skin as an integral part of Japanese beauty exists across time periods in classical Japanese works of literature like Tale of Genji, written in the early 11th century and the Diary of Lady Murasaki written in 1008 AD.

Japanese ideal of fair skin exemplified in kabuki actors and geishas
During the Nara Period (710-794), the practice of applying Oshiroi powder started in Japan. This practice continues today by Kabuki actors and Geisha actresses with apprentices. Oshiro literally means “white powder” and is a powder applied on a special wax base to cover the face, neck and the back depending upon the costume worn. Earlier Oshiroi powder contained white lead which would eventually give the women lead poisoning – the use of Lead in Oshiroi powder was banned in Japan from 1934.

In fact, White Lead was part of a very popular cosmetic product called Venetian Ceruse, which was notably used even by Elizabeth 1 of England. Many other devoted users included Maria Coventry, a famous Irish beauty and London society hostess during the reign of King George the 2nd, who reportedly died from Mercury and Lead poisoning.

This cultural notion of white skin being fundamental to beauty led to many other indigenous Japanese ingredients and herbs which were known to whiten skin. A Famous Japanese ingredient for skin whitening is  鶯の糞 or Uguisu no fun , which is the faeces produced by the Japanese bush warbler Cettia diphone.

The Uguisu is a part of Japanese culture in many more ways: it is one of the birds that signals the advent of early spring. Its voice is said to be beautiful, earning it the name the Japanese nightingale. But most famously, its droppings are dried and made into a powder and used both to whiten skin and also to remove hard to wash stains from pale or white kimonos.

Japanese nightingale droppings are a famous skin whitening substance in Japan
In fact, the Uguisu no fun is not even indigenous to Japan. It was introduced to Japan by Korea in the Heian period (790-1185 ad) as a cloth whitening stain removing aid. This ingredient’s use was expanded by the Japanese in the Edo period (1603-1868). Although the Edo period saw the widespread use of Japanese Nightingale droppings for skin whitening, sources also mention that a modified form of Uguisu no fun has been prevalent form Japan form the 3rd century Ad, where it was used along with rice bran for skin whitening.

Today Japanese Nightingale Farms exist to mass collect these droppings. The Japanese Nightingales are caged and fed with a diet of seeds which is far removed from their normal diet of insects and berries. The droppings are scraped off the cages every day and sanitised with UV light and then dried with a dehydrator. It is then ground into a powder and sold in this form.

Today Uguisu no fun is part of very expensive facials called the “Geisha Facial” offered in high end spas in New York. Nightingale droppings are mixed along with rice bran and applied and left onto skin for an hour – these treatments cost upwards of 200$ per facial. Reportedly Victoria and David Beckham are some of the celebrities who swear behind this treatment!

The Japanese norm of beauty has moved from heavy, obviously white skin achieved by Oshiroi powder to a more natural appearance of skin which started in the Edo period (early 17th century) described as “ukkiri” skin which is “moist and natural looking skin”. However, the shade of skin to be achieved remains pale and fair and white.

Culturally also, Japanese women are expected to wear makeup at all times, from early morning until late at night and this practice is still considered good etiquette.

Some conclusions from these 2 cultures:

This tale of droppings and beauty may lead us to a few conclusions. It is very clear that Asian countries like China and Japan have an ancient history of preferring and celebrating white skin. This is documented in their art, poetry, legends, and myths. It is also evident from their medicine where recipes to achieve this skin are recorded, and beauty treatments like Uguisu no fun.

It is important to note that these cultural notions of beauty are deep rooted and ancient in these cultures. They stem from a notion of elitism and class which separates the fair skinned from the working-class proletariat. Fair skin was therefore considered beautiful and a signalling of belonging to an elitist society.

With the colonial influence and inter country conquests these cultural notions were further strengthened and built on. For example, during Japan’s colonial rule in Taiwan from 1895-1945, Taiwanese women became consumers of Japanese Bihaku (skin whitening) products from companies like Shiseido, Shu Umera, etc. In the 21st century, Chinese women became consumers of these products.

I want to stress again on one thing: here in these countries there was already an existing and deeply prevalent ancient notion that beauty necessitated fair skin.

Asian countries like Japan and China deeply value fair skin

The second thing I want to emphasise is this: there is great deal of variation in Melanin levels in these Asian countries, at levels which are not even strictly comparable to each other. For example, traditional Chinese skin contains Melanin levels which are roughly only half that of the Melanin levels present in Indian and African skin. So Chinese melanin levels may be more comparable to lightly pigmented European Skin, Mexican skin etc and have little in comparison to the skin in Indian sub-continent.

Even the people who are considered “traditionally fair” in the Indian sub-continent, when compared to European skin are simply classified as “browns” and not “whites”.

In this context we can understand the Chinese and Japanese interest in fair skin as a means to seek skin without photo damage and NOT a reversal in skin colour. When your occupation necessitates outside work like farming, it is natural that your skin will darken in response to the sun. It is also natural that if you have the luxury to stay indoors and avoid outside work, your skin will remain fair.

Also, Fair skin in the Japanese context signified an ideal which was practiced by high ranking women like Empresses and others. It naturally became an aspirational ideal for all Japanese women to aspire towards.

So, the Chinese and Japanese interest in skin can also be seen as a reflection of class divides: a Chinese woman from a farming family will get dark compared to a Chinese woman in an upper-class home or an Empress. Here skin darkening can easily help people identify your economic and social status. Also, skin darkening here occurs due to an external factor: you are not trying to lighten existing dark skin.

Seen in this context, the  obsession with fair skin in India seems quite ridiculous. We naturally have much higher levels of Melanin in our skin. In fact, we can be more closely compared to African races. This Melanin level has evolved due to the high amount of sun exposure and our position on the equator – it helps our skin deal with the higher radiation levels we are routinely exposed to.

So, if our skin shade is darker, why are we obsessed with changing it? But are we, really?

We saw how the Chinese and Japanese interest in fairness is ancient, deep rooted, seen across time with evidences spread across ideals of beauty, art, literature, culture and endures until today. Is there such a persistent and ancient interest in fairness in the Indic civilisation? Let us examine some of our practices and references.

Indic civilisational references to beauty:

 

We will start with seeing a few descriptions of our Indic Gods and Goddesses and then go onto see if we can get more examples of fair skin across Indian culture. We start with a description of Lord Maha Vishnu as found in the Thiruppavai composed by the poetess Andaal, considered an incarnation of Goddess Bhoomi Devi and one of the 12 Azhwars of the Sri Vaishnava Sampradayam.

 

ஆழி மழைக்கண்ணா! ஒன்று நீ கை கரவேல்
ஆழியுள் புக்கு முகந்து கொடார்த்தேறி
ஊழி முதல்வன் உருவம்போல் மெய்கறுத்து

āzhi mazhai kannā onnu nī kai karavēl |

azhiyuḷ pukku muhandu koḍārtēṛi |
uzhi mudalvan uruvampōl mey kaṛuttu |

 

Lord Maha Vishnu's form is compared to a dark rain cloud

In this Paasuram, she asks the Lord to dive into the primordial ocean and bring up large, majestic dark rain clouds that give good copious rain. Here she says: உருவம்போல் மெய்கறுத்து Meaning that the colour of the rain clouds are dark and gleaming like the Thirumeni (Divine Form) of Lord Maha Vishnu. So here we start by seeing that the Lord is described as dark and majestic.

 

In the Shrimad Ramayana, Sage Valmiki describes the birth of Lord Rama thus:

Lord Rama is described as lustrous with shining dark skin at the time of his birth

Raja Ravi Verma’s “Birth of Rama”

कौसल्या शुशुभे तेन पुत्रेणामिततेजसा।।1.18.11।।

यथा वरेण देवानामदितिर्वज्रपाणिना।

Kausalya glowed with the undiminished lustre of Her Son

Just Like Aditi, the Mother of Indra glowed, Indra, the wielder of Vajra and the foremost among Devatas

 

So, we can see that the lustre of Lord Rama was so great that it reflected off his skin and increased the lustre and radiance of his Mother’s face as she held him. But is this lustre supposed to mean fairness or white skin?

As an avatar of Paramatma, Lord Narayana himself, Rama’s skin is also described as dark, so dark that it has a bluish aspect: “Megha shyama”.

 

In Sundara Kaanda, Lord Hanuman, describes Lord Rama’s complexion thus:

Lord Rama of teh lustrous dark skin described by Lord Hanuman

 

दुन्दुभिस्वननिर्घोष स्स्निग्धवर्णः प्रतापवान्।

सम स्समविभक्ताङ्गो वर्णं श्यामं समाश्रितः।।5.35.16।।

 

“His tone / voice is resonant like drums, HE has a beautiful, shining complexion, HE is full of valour

He is neither too tall nor short with symmetrical limbs, HE is of dark colour “वर्णं श्यामं “

 

Now let us see a description of Lord Krishna, another avatar of Lord Maha Vishnu. In the Shrimad Bhagavatam, Lord Brahma describes the beauty of Lord Krishna thus:

Lord Krishna sparkles with dark, bluish black skin

Madhubani painting depicting Lord Krishna

 

ब्रह्मोवाच-

नौमीड्य तेऽभ्रवपुषे तडिदम्बराय

गुञ्जावतंसपरिपिच्छलसन्मुखाय।

वन्यस्रजे कवलवेत्रविषाणवेणु-

लक्ष्मश्रिये मृदुपदे पशुपाङ्गजाय ॥१॥

 

Lord Brahma says:

My dear Lord, you are the only Lord worth worshipping,

The Supreme Paramatma; I offer my prayers at your Lotus feet

Oh, son of the King of Cowherds

Your beautiful body is dark blue like a rich rain cloud

Your garment is brilliant like white lightening

The beauty of your face is enhanced by your Peacock feather and earrings made from Red Gunja seeds

Wearing a garland made from flowers and leaves from the forest

And holding a stick, a flute and a horn to herd the cows,

You stand beautifully with a morsel of food in your hand

 

We can see from this description that Lord Krishna is beautiful with dark glowing skin, simple ornaments made from natural objects and glowing with divine radiance and tejas.

 

So, this is a description of 2 Male Gods. Maybe Indian Goddesses are fair? Let us see.

 

In the shloka, Mooka Panchashati, a devotional composition by Mukha Kavi dedicated to Goddess Kamakshi, an hamsa (aspect) of Goddess Uma, the Poet describes her skin complexion as: कूंकुमशॊणैर्निचितं , saffron in colour like the Kumkum stamen.

 

So here too, there is no mention of fairness / paleness of skin.

The Sri Suktam, an ancient invocatory Hymn found in the rig Veda describes Goddess Mahalakshmi thus:

Goddess Mahalakshmi of golden hued complexion

Depiction of Goddess Mahalakshmi from a Mural in the Thanjavur Brihadesshwara temple

हिरण्यवर्णां हरिणीं सुवर्णरजतस्रजाम्

“She of the golden hued complexion, who is beautiful and adorned with Gold and silver ornaments:

Again Here, the Goddess is described as being of golden hue – not fair or pale or milky white.”

 

Sita Devi, wife of Lord Rama, is described similarly in Shrimad Ramayana: तप्तकाञ्चनवर्णाभा or Lady with a shining golden hue – this is not surprising as she is an avatar of Goddess Mahalakshmi herself.

 

In Buddhist Literature, Queen Maha Maya, the mother of Gautama Buddha is described thus in Lalitavistara Sutra. This is a Sanskrit Mahayana Buddhist Sutra:

“Her beauty sparkles like a nugget of pure gold.
She has perfumed curls like the large black bee.
Eyes like lotus petals, teeth like stars in the heavens”

 

Again, here there is no reference to skin colour or actual complexion. Queen Maha Maya is simply said to sparkle like gold. The only reference to whiteness is in the colour of her teeth or sometimes in the colour of clothing worn.

 

If you look at other famous women in Ancient India, Devi Draupadi, in the Mahabharata is described as “Krishnaa” – or she who is a beautiful blueish -black colour much like Lord Krishna himself. Goddess Kali is of a dark swarthy hue.

Devi Draupadi described as Krishnaa - or She with the dark skin

 

Descriptions of  Indians , other than gods & goddesses

Sangam Poetry of Tamilnadu, gives no indication of skin colour being a desirable trait. Although references to beautiful women and their qualities are replete in the Sangam poetry. Some examples:

In Nattrinai part of the Eight Anthologies, “Ettuthogai” we can see this phrase used to denote beautiful women: “சேயரிமழைக்கண்” or “ “Ceyarimazhaikann” meaning Eyes that are as cool as the Rain.

 

Poet Ilango adigal
Poet Ilango Adigal compares the beauty of the women to the beauty of the Pearls from PoomPuhar. He says, “your pearls do not have the brightness of our lady’s spotless teeth, which are set in between her red coral like lips”.

He then adds that He and these beautiful women are from the brilliant Puhar where wealth is so immense that the waves froth up and batter the shores, throwing beautiful pearls against the rocks. These pearls are the left-over wealth spilled by the Ships bearing precious gems and jewels to P­uhar!

 

Sangam Poets like Nakkirar, Orampokiar, etc compare a women’s beauty to the beauty of a town.

In Silappadhikaram, poet Ilango Adigal again describes an instance of beauty:

அம் செங்கழுநீர் அரும்பு அவிழ்த்தன்ன. செங் கயல், நெடுங் கண் செழுங் கடைப் பூசலும்; கொலை வில் புருவத்துக் கொழுங் கடை சுருள, திலகச் சிறு நுதல் அரும்பிய வியரும்

The corners of their eyes, which are as long as oars,

Redden with anger

Till these beautiful eyes seem like purple lotus flowers

And beautiful beads of sweat gather like pearls on their brows”

 

In these descriptions we can see no mention of fair skin. But beauty is richly described and gloriously celebrated using similes, descriptions of nature and beautiful flowers, animals, trees, and other objects. So, there is no dearth of descriptions of beauty – it simply does not seem to be centred around skin colour.

 

So, we can conclude that ancient India did not seem to be obsessed with fair skin. Instead they seemed to celebrate skin of various hues and were more interested in the overall features, radiance and spirit of men and women, all of which together made up an idea of beauty.

 

What does Ayurveda say about skin colour?

Ayurveda is a divine, deep rooted, holistic and ethical Science with strong emphasis on the interplay between the Human being, the Universe around him / her. Health and Disease in Ayurveda is linked to a complex interplay between the human being’ Mind, Body and Psyche and the way these 3 parts of the human being interacts with the entire cosmos.

Ayurveda is a subtle and deep science of wellness and balance

Great emphasis is paid in Ayurveda to conservation of flora, fauna, careful harvesting of these species according to need and the need to respect and preserve natural resources is greatly emphasized.

In this context, we may get a clue that Ayurveda Science will not propagate un-thought-through colourism / racism, especially when it seems to have no basis in Indian art, mythology, spiritual traditions, architecture, poetry or literature.

In Ayurvedic skin care, the Acharyas describe Kanti vardhaka herbs. Now many people mis-interpret this term to mean a “fairness enhancing” set of herbs. But Kanti simply means “lustre” – as we have seen in the examples of Indic Gods and Goddesses and literature, anyone can have Kanti (lustre). It has little to do with skin colour and more to do with the ojas (inner vitality) and tejas (glow) brought on by balanced doshas and a balanced mind that is in harmony with itself and the world around it.

Kanti vardhaka Herbs in Ayurveda: a brief description

Ayurveda lists many Kanti vardhaka herbs. As “Kanti” or lustre is the exclusive territory of Bhajaraka Pitta, a sub dosha of Pitta dosha, the set of Kanti vardhaka herbs listed act, by regulating the functioning of Bhajraka Pitta.

Most Kanti vardhaka herbs have been mis-used by popular advertising. For example, Kumkuma, or Saffron, is a famous Kantivardhaka herb. This has been used and misused in popular advertising, films, etc as a mysterious Indian herb that instantly makes people fair. While Kumkuma is a good herb , it is incorrectly suggested by many people to pregnant women merely to beget fair skinned children.

Ayurveda is very scientific. The Acharyas have a very deep and through understanding of how the “Sharira” or physical body develops. Long before Mendel’s genetic theory based on experiments with sweet peas, Acharya Charaka said: that “Garbha” or conception occurs in the presence of 6 intrinsic factors:

  • Shukra (male sperm)
  • Shonita (female ovum)
  • Aatma : Soul / Life spark that unites with the zygote
  • Prakriti – Primordial substance or seed that forms all physical systems in the body of the foetus
  • Vikara : derivatives of the primordial substance

In the presence of the 6th factor “Matrujadi Garbhakara Bhavas” (subtle mental factors and behaviours derived from Mother and Father), the unique individual is formed with a unique set of patterns, behaviors, physical attributes, mental qualities, etc.

Hence Ayurveda gives great emphasis to the mental , physical and spiritual preparedness of both parents as they understand that these subtle factors greatly influence the qualities of the child.

So obviously such a through and deep science will not pass simple “tips” for “fair skin”. Whatever the acharyas suggest will be for a greater and more well thought through reason.

Let us take Kumkuma, Saffron, which is so badly misused by the fairness lobby. Kumkuma is a katu (pungent) and tikta (bitter) herb which is Ushna (hot) in its potency and is a tridosha hara (balances all 3 doshas). It is an excellent kanti vardhaka (glow enhancing) herb as it balances Bhajraka Pitta. It is also a very good “medhya” drug, boosting memory power and immunity. When given post partum, it greatly improves the strength of the uterine muscles which are weakened after delivery. It is also a vrana shodhana or wound cleansing drug.

Kumkuma: classic kanti vardhaka herb in Ayurveda

So Kumkuma is a very useful herb when we want to “activate” pitta dosha, when we want to add lustre / brighten the existing complexion. It is also a very good herb for children and the elderly because of its memory enhancing and strength giving properties. For post partum mothers, where vata is very aggravated, because of its tridosha hara and ushna guna and pitta balancing properties, it is a very good strength giving and vata reducing drug.

For reasons of vrana shodana (wound healing), to balance excess pitta and skin clogging as seen in acne, and for enhancing lustre, Kumkuma forms a important dravya in Kumkumadi tailam which we have written extensively about in a previous post.

But nowhere do the Acharyas mention that it “lightens” or “bleaches” skin. Here we can see that the truth has been stretched and distorted by people for their own selfish purpose.

In similar ways , we can analyse other Kanti vardhaka herbs like Haridra, Daruharidra, Manjishta, Ananthamoola, Ela, etc. These are wonderful skin health improving and lustre giving herbs. We extensively use these herbs in our Skin care formulations. For example a Krya skin product called Vyoma, which is formulated for Melasma and photoaging uses many of these lustre improving herbs. Consumers also report seeing good clearing up of skin and skin becomes inherent brighter and has a unique glow. But here these Herbs simply uncover the skin’s natural glow which comes from balanced doshas. In no way do these herbs or any Krya formulation claim / even suggest that skin should be or can be bleached.

Why would we make such a spurious claim? Skin cannot be called beautiful simply because it is fair. Ayurveda teaches us that Skin is a functioning organ system. When it functions at its most optimal level, it looks its best. This is why Ayurveda emphasizes so much on functional science.

Skin care and even hair care is approached from the lens of functionality first and its relationship with the overall body. The lens used is not cosmetic, external or simply aesthetic. Even in Hair care, the very last consequence of regular Ayurvedic hair oiling is hair growth.

Instead the acharyas emphasize the role of regular hair oiling in balancing Pitta energies emanating from eye and brain work. They also emphasize the role of hair oiling in keeping down stress, its ability to control the mental state and its role in providing good quality sleep. When the doshas are balanced using this dinacharya, we see lesser greying of hair, stronger hair, and better hair growth. But these aesthetic attributes are not the reason for hair oiling – they are merely the consequence of balanced doshas.

 

Is there any reference in Ayurveda to obtaining children with fair skin?

 

We saw above how Ayurvedic acharyas emphasize many subtle points on what all affect the conception, quality of conception and life and strength of the foetus. So when they speak about planning conception, the Acharyas ask the Mother to firmly fix her thoughts on the physical mental AND spiritual attributes of the child she seeks. The Acharyas also ask the other to cultivate a sattvic frame of Mind by engaging in good uplifting thoughts and by consistent application of Sattvic and Prana positive herbs both externally and internally. This Sattvic frame of Mind helps the Mother to dig deep and focus her thoughts on cultivating the right mental and spiritual qualities in the foetus. The presence of this sattvic aura helps in the steady and healthy growth of the foetus as well.

So here among the list of physical attributes, skin colour is also mentioned. But interestingly the Kashyapa Samhita clearly mentions in a shloka that the shades of “fair” (gaura), “dark” (shyama) and “black” (Krishna) are the 3 desired skin shades in children. The Acharya mentions that any other colours are not desirable and are to be condemned! So here too, we see 2 shades of dark skin and only a single shade of fair skin in the aspirational list – dark and black skin appears to be much more preferred over fair skin.

We will discuss more about Ayurvedic conception and bust many myths and misinformed opinions about garbh samskara in other blog posts. This subtle, evolved, philosophical and deeply Indic science has recently received bad press by misinterpretation. Suffice to say, Ayurveda is not at all for exclusively producing Fair skinned babies , as we saw above! We must not be confused with terms like Eugenics and selective breeding and misinterpret Indic Science using a racially changed Western lens. Dark and Black are extremely preferable shades in Ayurveda for skin colour.

 

Medieval and Colonial India :

Muslim invasions brought in different concepts of beauty to IndiaMuslim invasions started in India around 712 AD, although Islamic trade with India began earlier than this. We assume that the trade and the invasions would have seen an introduction of different social, cultural and norms of beauty to India.

Most importantly, there would have been an introduction of different Melanin levels in the skin brought in by the Mongol and Persian belt Muslim invaders who would have certainly been of a different skin colour compared to Native Indians.

Some accounts of this changing norm of skin colour and race can be seen in the writings of the 3 Frenchmen who visited India in the 17th century: Jean Baptiste Tavernier, Francois Bernier and Jean de Thevenot.

Jean Baptiste Tavernier and his observations on India and Mughal regime
Jean Baptiste Tavernier was a 17th century French Gemmologist and traveller. He is famously known for his discovery and purchase of the 116 carat Tavernier Blue Diamond which he later sold to Louis the 14th of France for a sum equivalent of 172,000 ounces of pure gold and a rise to noble ranks. This gem later resurfaced as the Hope Diamond, one of the most famous gems in the world, last insured at 250 million USD. It is now the property of the Smithsonian, donated by Harry Winston.

At the court of Shah Jahan, Jean Baptiste Tavernier made an interesting observation about the Mughals:

“They were called Mughals, being white of complexion…The natives were of brown or olive complexion”.

Francois Bernier, a physician who served for nearly 12 years at the court of Aurangzeb as the Physician to the Royal Family, went one step further in his accounts: He said:

“To be considered a Mughal, it is enough if a foreigner has a white face and profess Mahometanism.”

Bernier further observed that even among the Mughals of Persian Descent, there was a definite pecking order related to skin colour: those who were of more recent origin from Iranian descent with fair skin, would look down upon those who had settled in the sub-continent over many generations and as a result developed darker skin!

This obsessive interest in skin colour and establishment of superiority based on skin colour, may be said to have entered the Indic sub-continent via invasions. This was further cemented and increased on a massive scale during the colonial rule.

This is extremely different from the traditionally held Indic and Ayurevdic viewpoint on the desirability of both dark and black skin.

Do such references to Fair Skin colour exist in earlier accounts of India by foreigners?

Just for my personal interest, I wondered whether such references to skin colour existed earlier in India. For this, I went through the translated copies of Fa Hein’s voyages in India and Huien Tsang’s travels in India. Both these occurred at very different time periods. Fa Hein’s travels took place around 399 – 412 AD in the rein of Chandragupta II.

Faxian travelled to India around 400 AD
Fa Hein’s travels are fascinating and even the translated version is interesting to read covering his travels around Ladakh, north western India, Lahore, Punjab, and then into Pataliputra, through eats of India, Deccan, Sri Lanka and then back to china. Fa Hein’s descriptions centre around the people of India, their adherence to Buddhism and their faith in the Buddha, their treatment of the Chinese Bikshus (monks) and to some extent about the rule of Chandragupta 2, the tax and administrative structure followed, etc.

We can surmise that as a monk interested in retrieving the original Buddhist scriptures, Fa-Hein may have been less interested in skin colour and other such practices like Jean Baptiste Tavernier was. Or we could conclude that nothing out of the ordinary was recorded by Fa Hein, and on the other hand, Tavernier especially noted discriminatory practices with respect to skin colour.

Huien Tsang's travels to India occurred around 600 AD
Huien Tsang’s travels to India took place much after Fa Hein, around 627 AD, when he was around 25 years old, a full 200+ years after Faxian. In Huien Tsang’s accounts, we have many rich descriptions of some of the wonders of ancient India like the Nalanda university. Huien Tsang had a dream when he was an ordained monk of 25, that convinced him to take the physically tough journey to India. At that time the Chinese Empire was under war with the Gokturks of Inner Asia, so the Emperor had prohibited any foreign travel.

Persuading the Buddhist guards at Yumen Pass to let him go, Huien Tsang journeyed through the Gobi Desert to Hami City in east Xinjiang in China and then took the extremely arduous mountain route through the Tian Shan mountains westward. Through the Silk route Huien Tsang crossed the Flaming Mountain of Turpan, Karasahr in Mongol, and then crossed into modern day Kyrgyzstan. Then through Uzbekistan, he crossed Tashkent, Samarkand, the Pamir mountains, he entered Afghanistan. Then through the Bamiyan Buddha route, he entered Kabul, passed the Khyber Pass, reached Peshawar, went through the SWAT valley and entered Kashmir.

Huien Tsang’s travels in India had him visiting Kashmir, Punjab, U.P (Mathura), Kannauj, Kashipur, Ajodhya, Kaushambi and then onto modern day Nepal. Then he came back via Bihar to Nalanda where he spent a few years learning and studying. Huien Tsang further travelled to present day Bangladesh, Andhra Pradesh, Nasik, Malwa, etc before heading back to China.

His travels give us many descriptions of the life of India and many of our lost treasures like the Nalanda University:

Nalanda University was a great centre of learning in India

“One gate opens into the great college, from which are separated eight other halls, standing in the middle (of the monastery). The richly adorned towers, and the fairy-like turrets, like pointed hilltops, are congregated together. The observatories seem to be lost in the mists (of the morning), and the upper rooms tower above the clouds. “From the windows one may see how the winds and the clouds produce new forms, and above the soaring eaves the conjunctions of the sun and moon may be observed. ” And then we may add how the deep, translucent ponds bear on their surface the blue lotus intermingled with the Kanaka flower, of deep red colour, and at intervals the Amra groves spread over all, their shade.”

The charitable and welcoming nature of the Nalanda university and its monks is also beautifully described by Huien Tsang. He says:

Each day he received 120 Jambiras/ 20 Pin-long-tseu (puga, areca nut) 20 tau-‘Mau (nutmegs), an ounce (lael) of Camphor, and a ching (peck) of Mahashali rice. This rice is as large as the black bean, and when cooked is aromatic and shining, like no other rice at all. It grows only in Magadha, and nowhere else. It is offered only to the king or to religious persons of great distinction, and hence the name kung-ta-jin-mai {i.e., rice offered to the great householder). Every month he was presented with three measures of oil, and daily a supply of butter and other things according to his need.”

Again here, we see no physical descriptions of people or any indication that skin colour was any factor.

He also mentions that this great abode of learning, Nalanda University housed 10,000 scholars who studied besides the Buddhists texts, the Vedas, the Medical sciences (Chikitsavaidya), and many other texts. He mentions that at any point of time, Nalanda University has 1000 men who can explain the philosophy and meaning behind Buddhist sutras and Hindu Shastras. The King od this country amply supports this University and has remitted the revenue of 100 villages towards the running and upkeep of Nalanda University.

Huien Tsang then says “Two hundred householders in these villages, day by day, contribute several hundred piculs  of ordinary rice, and several hundred catties in weight of butter and milk. Hence the students here, being so abundantly supplied, do not require to ask for the four requisites. This is the source of the perfection of their studies, to which they have arrived”.

Khaliji's destruction of Nalanda and Vikramashila
In 1193 AD, Muhammed Bin Bhaktiyar Khaliji, a Turkish chieftain , under the service of the Awadh commander, began a series of raids into Bihar. Nalanda University and Vikramshila, 2 great centres of learning were attacked and destroyed and the Monks and Brahmins in these Institutes were murdered and great damage done to the buildings, palm leaf scrolls and other learning repositories.

In the book, “Tabaqat-i Nasiri written by Minhaj-I-Siraj Juzjani in 1260, a few decades after Khaliji’s attack, Khaliji’s deeds were recorded. One of his attacks was described thus in this book:

“Muhammad-i-Bakht-yar, by the force of his intrepidity, threw himself into the postern of the gateway of the place, and they captured the fortress, and acquired great booty. The greater number of the inhabitants of that place were Brahmans, and the whole of those Brahmans had their heads shaven; and they were all slain. There were a great number of books there; and, when all these books came under the observation of the Musalmans, they summoned a number of Hindus that they might give them information respecting the import of those books; but the whole of the Hindus had been killed. On becoming acquainted [with the contents of those books], it was found that the whole of that fortress and city was a college, and in the Hindui tongue, they call a college [مدرسه] Bihar.”

In Medieval India, with the Invasions, we can surmise that there was a great cultural loss, loss of life, looting, pillaging, destruction of property and learning centres, loss of tradition and loss of religion, texts of learning, etc, depending upon the Invaders and their intentions. This series of Invasions certainly weakened the Indic spirit and caused schisms. The Invaders also started to discriminate basis skin colour, religion, etc which is evident above. But we still do not see the full blown obsession with skin colour. For that we have to travel to colonially occupied India.

Colonial rule and racism: Examples from Africa

 The emphasis of skin colour which seems to have begun with the Muslim Invasions from the 10th century onwards through the Mughal Rule, reached new heights during the Colonial Invasion. The British considered themselves intellectually superior as a race and more intelligent than the “dark skinned natives” they came to lord over. As the Colonial rule extended, segregation based on race and colour was extensively practiced by the foreign nationals all over India.

This racism and colorism was widespread among all European countries and not restricted to Britain alone.

Germany and Namibia:

Herero people saw an extreme genocide under German rule in NamibiaThis was not restricted to Britain alone. Germany was notorious for its colonial and segregation-based ruling. Much before the Jewish Holocaust, German rule in Namibia led to the genocide and segregation of the native Herero and Namaqua people between 1904-1907. Protesting under the German practice of using natives as slave labourers, stealing their cattle and dispossessing natives of their land and giving it to white settlers, the local Herero and Nama clans rose in revolt against the German colonisers.

The resulting 3-year War led to the Herero and Namaqua Genocide by the Germans. More than 100,000 people died from starvation after being chased into the Namib desert where the died of starvation. The survivors were put to work in concentration camps in an eerie precursor of the Holocaust. Medical experiments were performed on survivors similar to what happened to the Jews in concentration camps. When the concentration camps were closed, the survivors were put to work as labourers, and were permanently banned from owning land or cattle and had to wear a metal disc with registration numbers.

In 2004, the German government recognized and apologised for these events, but ruled out giving either financial compensation or land reparation for the descendants of victims. Even as of 2004, more than 50% of arable land in Namibia continues to be owned by whites.

Edward Long’s theories on Racial Superiority

The British colonial rule preferentially promoted and looked for people with fair skin and systematically drove the wedge of “white skin”, “English language” and “western customs” as the benchmark to succeed in British ruled India.

The Book that set the benchmark for the colonial view on dark skin and the inherent white superiority over dark skin was the “History of Jamaica” written in 1774 by Edward Long. Edward Long was a slave owner and the son of a slave owner , whose family had lived in Jamaica from mid-17th century. His book was a part travel guide, part political guide and a part description of British colonial rule in the Caribbean.

The fact that he had spent 12 years in Jamaica, gave Edward Long’s bizarre and inhumane theories a veneer of authority and these ideas had extreme longevity.,

Edward Long described American Black Slaves in the Caribbean and likened their brethren in Africa as having the same “bestial manners, stupidity and vices which debase their brethren”. He said that the African race was filled with vices, and was said to represent “every species of inherent turpitude and inherent imperfection”. Long argued that Blacks had no redeeming qualities at all, and maintained that they had no appreciation for arts, architecture, had no conception of mechanical arts or nature, and were completely devoid of any genius, being most similar to “under-evolved apes”.

Edward Long was infamous in being a special kind of racist: His brand of racism served as a natural justification of colonialism. Echoes of his thoughts persisted through the works of men of later generations and led to one of the greatest crimes against humanity: the persistent enslavement of the African races based on Edward Long’s demonic assertion.

Long alleged that Africa was so barbaric and so chaotic that Africans were better off as slaves since slavery saved them from the worse fates that waited them in their homeland. Right up to modern day slavery of Mauritania by the Arab Berbers, this vicious and untrue myth around the African Races has held them back from a life of dignity, progress and the right to exist.

 

Colorism and Racism persisted until very recently across the world

This attitude persisted until very recently in the Western world as seen through various pieces of advertising like what has been depicted above.

Colonialism, Colorism and Racism in India under British Rule:

Today we are a proud Republic and a large nation. By the sheer power of our industry, brilliance and the size of our population and our economy, India commands respect among the world. We are also a favourite “third world nation” for our prowess in English, and our prowess in science and Technology which powers many Fortune 500 corporations across banking, entertainment, finance, etc. In the colonial world, the power of the Indian viewer in cricket cannot be discounted: suffice to say that Colonial sports like cricket survive only because of India and the power of our adverting dollars.

India represents both economic might and considerable opportunity today

In this supposedly equal world, where we share many loves with the West like pop culture, English language, travel, music, etc, it is easy to be charitable today and assume that Colonialism wasn’t too bad.

Many of us seek to look inwards when we discuss Indian attitudes and behaviours. Surely everything cannot be the fault of the British and the colonial era, we assume, rather charitably. Let’s see some examples:

The Indian native: a third class citizen in British era

In law and administration , Indian natives had fewer rights under British Colonial Law. The Guardian reports that Crime committed by Whites against Indians attracted much lesser degree of punishment. If an Englishman shot his Indian servant dead (must have been a regular occurrence to pass a law about it!), The Englishman got 6 months in jail and modest fine of Rs.100.

If an Indian on the other hand was convicted of attempted rape of an English woman, He was sentenced to 20 years rigorous imprisonment.

It is notable that despite thousands of Indians dying under British hands, only 3 cases went to court of British Men murdering Indians, during the entire period of British Rule.

Punch Magazine wrote an entire ode to the “stout English boot” – at that time, it was common for English Masters to kick their Indian servants in the stomach with their “stout English boots” resulting in a ruptured spleen and eventually death. This would almost always be blamed on the Indian natives contracting Malaria leading to an enlarged spleen, which “easily ruptured”.

What about the British “Gifts” of English and the Railways?

We are often told that Colonial rule gave Indians the gift of “English language education” and the much publicized “railway system”.

English Education, as stated by Lord Macaulay was not Universal. It was taught to a small and select group of Indians for this reason:

“We must do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indians in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals and in intellect.”

There was absolutely no desire on the colonizers part to educate the Masses or restore the fallen literacy rates under their rule.

The railways were conceived by the east India Company purely as a means to enable control of commerce and to aid the efforts of the Military and government control of India. Indian Railways were built on British Shareholders money – and they were given absurd returns by the British government for “investing in India”. The Government guaranteed double the returns of government stocks for British investors – needless to say Indian taxes paid for these returns.

Indian railways: built on indian blood and indian money but treated indians as cattle

The Railways were primarily designed to transport Indian goods to places convenient to the British. Separate compartments were reserved for English within these Railways. Indians were herded into third class. All key employees and personnel in Indian Railways were Britishers who were paid at European and not Indian levels.

Dogs and Indians not allowed: common sign posts across British run Clubs in indiaSegregation was not limited to Railway compartments. Throughout India, “Whites only” clubs and public spaces arose which were expressly forbidden to the Natives. Strangely enough many of these Clubs continue with Colonial Era rules and dressing guidelines even today in free India!

Pritilata Waddekar Bengali nationalist
For example, the Pahartali European Club in East Chittagong in current Bangladesh was the site of one of the attempts by the Indian revolutionaries as a part of the Indian Independence movement to protest against the unfair discriminatory practices followed. This club had a prominent sign which said “Dogs and Indians not allowed”.

Pritilata Waddekar, a Bengali revolutionary nationalist led an attack against this club where the revolutionaries attacked this club. An injured Pritilata was trapped by the British Police and consumed Cyanide as an act of protest.

Colour and race-based examples abound during the British colonisation of the Indian sub-continent.

We can see more and more clear examples in in direct quotes and examples towards the end of the British rule, Winston Churchill described as someone who believed in racial hierarchies and eugenics by John Charmley, author of “ Churchill: the end of Glory” says: Churchill saw himself and Britain as being the winners in a social Darwinian hierarchy.”

In 1943, India went through the Bengal Famine where more than 3 million people died of acute starvation. Despite the alarming news coming of starving Indians, Churchill insisted that India export much needed Rice to meet the war effort. Additionally, the war cabinet ordered the stockpiling of Wheat for liberated European civilians. So over 170,000 tonnes of Australian wheat bypassed a starving India.

Bengal Famine: 3 million Indians death

Worse still, Churchill blamed this famine on Indians, saying it was the Indians’ own fault for “breeding like rabbits”.

What India Lost under the British: a short description

This article is restricted to the aspect of skin whitening alone. But the damage to Indian psyche, stripping of Indian confidence and the erosion of Indian Knowledge systems across art, agriculture, science, metals and industrial development under the British Colonial rule has been devastating.

What is the background for this information?

A lot of the raw material for this article comes from Shri Dharampalji’s eye opening articles and speeches that follow his careful documentation of British observations and records of the state of India around the early 17th century and the change after this period due to colonial rule. This careful research done across 30 British archives in England &  Scotland  and subsequent research and study in villages across India, forms the research basis for Shri Dharampal’s works.

This archival material was carefully transcribed by hand by Shri Dharampal and then transmitted in the form of books speeches and articles to counter the misinformation being taught in Independent India which carefully camouflaged both the destruction at the hands of the British and also the existence of Indian knowledge systems.

You can read more about Shri Dharampal here. Dharampal Ji’s books can be bought in Other India Bookstore. 

India’s rich economic, cultural, agricultural and educational practices: as reported by the British

A Harvard Study reported that in 1700, India and China together accounted for 73% of the Industrial output of the entire World. Yes, you read that right: 73% of the Industrial output of the entire world.

From the Christian Missionary William Adam’s report on indigenous education in Bengal, and Bihar made in 1835 and 1838, Dharampal Ji makes some startling observations. At the time there were 100,000 schools in Bengal, and the indigenous Ayurvedic medical system included a successful inoculation programme that prevented the spread of small pox!

Sir Thomas Munroe’s report made to the Governor at the same time establishes a similar set of statistics about schools in Madras. The education system in Punjab under the rule of Maharaja Ranjit Singh was equally extensive. Through this, we can estimate that the average literacy rate in India was much higher than that of the British at that time.

Contrarian to Indian systems, Britain did not have an extensive schooling system reserving education for the elite and privileged. Well after several decades under British rule (with a decay in India’s overall systems)  the Madras Presidency recorded that the schooling system had 1.25 lakh students in that area alone. Comparatively the whole of Britain had about 40,000 students at school at the same time!!

In this period, Dharampal ji also exploded the current myth about backward castes in India. He proved statistically that in all these surveyed states, Brahmins accounted for between 13-23% (at the highest level) of students at school. The current castes which are named as backward castes accounted for 70 – 84% of the students in the education system in the 1800s.

Our successes were not limited to education alone. Records show that even moderately fertile districts like Chengalpattu in Tamilnadu recorded an agricultural output of 5-6 tonnes of paddy per hectare of land in the 1760s. This record is matched today by Japan, which is considered the highest in agricultural output in paddy farming in the world today – imagine what Indian was able to achieve without modern science, technology, water supply and under a hostile government in the 1700s!

Every village had an elaborate set of administrators and service providers: vaidyas, school teachers, local militia / police, astrologers, musicians, poets, engineers to look after dams and irrigation, barbers, ironsmiths, potters all form a part of each village to look after all the needs of the village.

From the gross produce of each village, amounts were allocated to pay for the salaries and annuities of each of these service providers for perpetuity! Indian farmers owned their land or had a share of it for perpetuity – they could not be sent out or disposed of their land easily. Indian steel technology was superior to Sheffield steel, and be it gems, fabric, weapons, clothing, musical instruments, or learning, India was a superior civilisation with bounty.

The British successfully initiated and implemented a wide spread system of taxation, and extortion with the sole aim of bleeding India dry, taking the output of India back to England as cash and products and later on ensuring that these technologies were effectively destroyed so India could never rise up against the British.

Where do we go from here? An Indic revival / renaissance is needed

This post may have shocked you out of your preconceived notions about India’s past and wealth. It was meant to do so. For too many of us, the notion of India comes into existence only after 1947 and we tend to view our country as a young country and as a blank slate. Therefore, we persist in the notion that we ought to learn from and borrow from so-called advanced and superior civilizations like the countries of the west.

I hope this post gave you an insight into how superior and advanced Indian society and Indian civilization truly was, or at least a flavor of this.

Coming from such an advanced civilization that is rich in material and spiritual wealth and gave generously to all, we must ask ourselves if it is correct for us to accept and conform to narrow stereotypes around colour. We must also ask ourselves if modern notions of caste, and our current accepted notions around the “mess of Indian society” is real or a systematic lie perpetrated upon us by the colonizers to achieve their own ends. If we begin to question this distorted history, we also begin to question distorted notions of skin colour superiority and stop seeing ourselves as weak, inferior or in need of aid / charity in any way.

Ancient India was never an isolated / closed civilization.

Ancient India: open and proud civilsationwith contacts across teh world and free flow of goods and information

Our records show free movement of people, goods, trade and even conquests / attempts at conquests between Greece, Bactrians, Huns, Mongols, Persians, etc. Similarly, Indian dynasties established trade routes and relationships between many countries in the world. Chandragupta Maurya had a Greek wife among his many wives. The Chozha dynasty went as far as Java, Sumatra to establish trade links. There have been innumerable examples of marriages between cultures, exchange of information and fluidity of trade in ancient India.

All of this must have exposed us to different skin types, food, culture, languages, etc. But we stuck to our own ideals of beauty, dharma, values , learning and kept building on our already rich traditions. We did not substitute our lofty ideals for lesser values.

Yet today, we have gone very far from our cultural roots. From a, land where Sangam Poetry celebrated the beauty of women focussing on their qualities, their similarities with rivers and lands, we have moved to a simplistic homogenous definition of beauty.

We have been brain washed with images of fair skin, straight hair and homogenous looking people. No matter that our ancestral art and culture celebrated the thick, jet black, bee like curly, and straight hair of our women and their dark, glowing skin and almond shaped eyes. Today we all want to have pale, Asian skin which is not even a part of our genotype.

Some of it is driven by Multinational corporations which are famous in sending out mass , cookie-cutter advertising to a wide audience. This homogeneity of desires has been fed because of the way Indian pride, Indian learning and Indian advances have been ruthlessly demolished and razed by a rapacious Colonial mindset. Only a small mind can be jealous of and fear a great mind.

But we are no longer yoked to a Colonial power. India is free. We are our own nation and have been from 1947. So, we no longer need to continue to please our colonial masters and bow to their tunes. Let us shake ourselves free from this colonial driven obsession with fair skin in India. It was never a part of our ancient Indian civilisation. It is not “deep rooted”. On the other hand, this behaviour is very shallow rooted and recent – just under 400 years or so. So, it is easier to rip out and throw far away.

What next? Indic Revival

Many Krya customers have shared distressing examples of colourism and colour induced racist behaviour they continue to observe today. Many of us have been termed as “too dark”, “difficult to marry” and colour shaming is even today practiced among parents, grand parents of their darker children, nieces, nephews and grandchildren.

This colour shaming is strongly reinforced by some of the poor cultural and celebrity stereotypes we are exposed to today. Despite the suffering India has undergone under colonial rule, we have forgotten about it and continue to celebrate Western stereotypes of skin colour and beauty. With advertising now becoming pan Asian, we are exposed to skin and hair stereotypes from China, Japan and Vietnam as well.

Beauty brands routinely use Bollywood and Regional film starlets and celebrities to promote ideals of fair skin.

We need to understand that these brands exist only to sell their products and make a profit at our expense. If we change our mindset about Beauty and what makes up beauty, they will have no choice but to come to their sense.

If your family / friends continues to colour shame you or your child, take some time to have a conversation with them and explain the facts shared in this post. They might be horrified to understand the colonial infection of their mind, and how this thinking is not at all Indic.

India against colorism

Take the time to identify and find newer role models for Beauty. Better still celebrate your beauty and your child’s beauty as unique. Take the time to also visit some of India’s ancient temples and read the Bhakti literature in India which talks and celebrates very different ideals of beauty.

Do not lend your financial or intellectual support to companies that profit from colour shaming. Voice your thoughts vocally about this pernicious trend. Educate your friends and office colleagues about how easily and persistently companies get under our skin and make us feel apologetic about our skin colour, looks, behaviour and cultural practices.

Remember only the small and petty try and divide based on issues like skin colour and that too only for their own profit, at your expense. Also remember that our country is unique, and approached many issues uniquely. There is no need for us to now get sterotyped over beauty ideals!

 

Be aware. Be Unique. Be vocal. Be a proud Indian. Celebrate your Indic, Unique , Indian Beauty and Indian skin colour!

 

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9 thoughts on “How Shyama and Krishna became 3 shades Fairer: A critical analysis of fair skin obsession in India

  1. Thank you for this well-researched piece. Eye opening!

    1. Thanks so much Mukti!

    2. Very informative and eye opening, especially the myth busting research about so called casteism and backward country view of India before the British. Heading to read more about it now, thanks Preethi

      1. Thank you Lakshmi!

  2. Possibly the most well written Indian POV article written in recent times. Kudos

    1. Thank you so much Hema!

  3. Such a well written and extraordinary message on skin color bias present in India. I really appreciate your research work. Nice read!!🙂

    1. Rajol: thanks so much!

  4. Fantastic article. Thank you so much for all this research and resources.

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