Come take a walk with me through the streets of Harappa. We pass homes made of baked bricks with flat roofs containing courtyards of blue poppy, orchids and begonias. Some children are playing with a monkey that is screeching in Ancient India.
The Indus River banks have raised due to the monsoon rains. A brown bullock pulls a cart of wheat to the granary. We can hear people splashing in a public pool.
Here in ancient India women may be seen wearing beautiful colored saris. They are also decorated with jewelry of gold and rare stones. Some have a red dot on their forehead.
We also see a wedding ceremony with the bride dressed in a red sari. Her hands and feet are painted with henna designs. It is quite the celebration!
What was Ancient India?
Ancient India was the period in Indian history that took place in 1500 BCE. This continued to the end of the brilliant Gupta Empire a bit after 500 CE, Vedic Age. Ancient India (South Asia) is described as the Indian sub-continent.
It consists of these modern day countries:
- Sri Lanka
The Caste System in Ancient India
A social and religious separation known as caste came with the arrival of the Aryans from central Asia. They migrated into northwest India with a religion (Hinduism) based on the worship of many gods and goddesses.
Brahmins were at the top of the social ladder because they were said to be closest to Brahma. For instance included here were priest and leaders.
Next the warrior caste was known as Kshatriyas. Third vaishyas were ordinary Aryan commoners, farm owners, craftsmen and traders.
Finally the shudras who were menial workers like laborers, maids, cooks and blacksmiths. In conclusion they served the three classes previously mentioned.
Outside the caste system completely were a large group known as the untouchables. Imagine they weren’t even regarded as human beings. That is to say they were given the “dirty” jobs like dealing with human waste and deposing of dead animals.
The Beauty Chakra
Many consider the bindi (red dot) between the eyebrows to be only worn by married women, not so. The area between the eyebrows is referred to as the “third eye”. Most importantly it is where the chakra is found that Indians consider being the center of someone’s spiritual power.
Both genders wore the bindi mark to augment their beauty in addition spiritual vitality. The bindi was made of turmeric powder and lime juice. Above all it is a red circle of virtue.
Along with a bindi some Hindu women may also wear a sindur. This is a line of red powder placed in the part of their hair to give a married status. Similarly the color red is connected to love and honor.
As a religious symbol the tilaka is worn on the forehead by Hindu men. These are sectarian marks connected to the religious following of the person. For instance a Vishnu follower dons one or more vertical marks.
While a Shiva follower wears three horizontal lines. Hindu texts goes into the when, how and with what substance these marks should be applied.
The tilaka can be worn daily or for special occasions and religious ceremonies. This depends on local traditions. Women may even be seen wearing a tilaka but it is more common to see a bindi on their forehead.
Ayurveda is the earliest school of medicine that humans know of. The father of medicine, Charka Samhita, established Ayurveda about 2500 years ago. It is also the only medical system known that looks at a person being treated using a holistic path.
Turmeric was one medicinal plant that played a huge part in ancient Indian life. It was used to cure most infections due to its antimicrobial properties. Milk was boiled along with turmeric and sugar used in India for a cold remedy. After that the juice from the root was applied to heal wounds.
A common belief in India was for a woman to have her left nostril pierced. According to Ayurveda this is the spot linked to child bearing. It is said that wearing a nose ring in this area helps with pain along with making child birth more manageable.
Skincare in Ancient India
Cleansing included soap berries (aka soap nuts) to make soap. These leaves were boiled to soften up. Then the berries were crushed filtering out the cleansing chemicals.
Also a variant of the acacia plant known as shikai or shikakai was used. This was made into a product to cleanse the hair and body.
The caste (class) system in India has to do with birth and wealth. Therefore, due to the higher status usually having paler skin this is associated as beauty.
In fact, during this time a skin bleaching cosmetic was created. This was a mixture of costus root, sesame seeds, lebbeck leaves, pongamia pea plant leaves, cedar wood and barberry wood. Secondly this was roasted and then crushed into a fine powder.
Turmeric (haldi) was a key ingredient for lightening the complexion. It was made into a powder to help remove excess oil along with destroying the bacteria to prevent acne. Because it is an antioxidant as well it helps with treating pimples and the inflammation.
Aloe was believed to supply the energy of youth and had a rejuvenating effect on the female nature. In Ayurveda medicine, aloe is used in many remedies from menorrhea problems to the cardiovascular system. It is the plant of balance between pitta, kapha and vata.
Shampoo owes its roots to India. Various herbs as well as other cleansing agents were mixed and used as shampoo in ancient India. The English word shampoo, in fact is believed to have been taken from the Hindi word ‘champo’.
Hair oiling was a treatment usually done before taking a shower or going to bed at night. Ayurveda texts traditionally suggest sesame oil be used in cold seasons for its warming qualities. Coconut oil used for hotter seasons for its cooling effects.
For enhanced benefits:
- Thickening hibiscus
- Growth stimulating amalaki
- Antimicrobial bhmingraj
- Protective brahmi
The leaves of henna were crushed into a thick paste that was semi-permanent, reddish-brown in color. This paste could also be applied to dye hair and fingernails. It was believed to provide luck.
First discovery of the Jasmine flower is thought to be in India. Because it symbolizes purity it commonly adorns the hair of young women. Jasmine is also used in holistic medicine.
A number of different makeup products were worn by both genders in Ancient India. To them makeup was a way to practice their religion and culture. Some products were saved for special occasions. Others were used on a regular basis to enhance the person’s luck, beauty, spirituality and status.
Kajal Rimmed Eyes
This was prepared by dipping a clean muslin rag in a paste of sandalwood. The women would then take the rag when dried and burn it in a lamp of castor oil. Next they’d add the ashes to castor oil or ghee making it easier to apply.
To add color to the lips betel leaves were chewed to give the effect of lipstick.
Henna was particularly used in rites of passage. In preparing for their wedding, mehendi, was done on the bride’s hands and feet. A skilled artist would create intricate patterns on the skin. Women may also wear mehendi for other events as well as religious holidays.
Mehendi holds spiritual importance also. This consisted of a whole ceremony to decorate the bride. The belief being the bond between the bride and groom was portrayed by the henna color.
Wrapping it up
India has changed borders since ancient India times. The country has given the world Ayurveda and yoga. In addition, shampoo.
Many of the skincare and makeup recipes have been passed down to the next generation and are still used today. These recipes are also being circulated around the world.
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Mary is the founder of All About Our Skin. Former esthetician and CPC. Enjoys researching skincare and has been studying our skin for the past fifteen years.