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Consumer India: Inside the Indian Mind and Wallet by Dheeraj Sinha

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CHAPTER 3

BEAUTY IN ACTION

THE BUSINESS OF LOOKING GOOD

Skin Deep

In India, beauty has always truly been only skin deep. Traditionally, when parents were arranging marriage for their sons, although they did consider the looks of the girl, they gave prime importance to her other abilities, such as singing, dancing, and embroidery. Gunwanti (talented) was somehow superior to roopwanti (beautiful). The most celebrated goddess in Indian mythology, Durga, is worshipped not for her beauty but for her act of killing the demon who threatened to destroy all creation. Durga is said to have another avatar, the goddess Kali, who is portrayed as dark as death and credited in Indian mythology as the destroyer of the multiplying demon Raktabija. Even in Indian history, the most celebrated woman icon is the queen of Jhansi, known not for her beauty but her valor.

In traditional India, a culture obsessed with things cerebral, beauty has played a limited role. Beauty has never been the foremost social currency, but it certainly was a pursuit in itself for certain class of people. The women of royalty, wives of the rich, even the gods were portrayed as beautiful. Most portraits of Indian gods like Ram and Krishna made them look beautiful in a feminine way, with curly locks, red lips, rounded faces, and their bodies bedecked with gems and jewelry. Thus beauty in Indian society was the domain of the privileged, the realm of royalty, art, and mythology.

Defined by the Face

The traditional definitions ...

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