Shringaar roughly translates to "adornment" in English- an adornment of the body and soul through aesthetics or rasa. Shringaar is an ode to beauty and delight, enraptured by its own strength. It is an everyday ritual, put in place to slow down and marvel at aesthetics and all the grandeur they hold. According to Hindu mythology, the ritual of Shringaar can be traced to the character of Rati, wife of Kamdev, who had been blessed by Goddess Lakshmi with 16 adornments. Slowly with the passage of years, this mythology dappled with the secular world and became a part of the everyday lives of men and women. Through kajal and nathni, payal and bindi, tilak and necklace - beauty is curated and strung deliberately together.
Traditionally, there have been 16 types of Shringaar. Shringar is one of the nine 'Rasas' that are considered to be crucial emotions that humans engage in during their lifetimes. The 16 aesthetic pieces range from bathing to attire; jewelry to make-up. The hammam becomes the site of un-doing where the soiled remnants of the yesterdays are removed, the body and the mind cleansed for the ritual of Shringaar . Through gajras and bindi, silver anklets and nose rings, each part of the body is paid heed to. Such is the need to slow down during this intimate ritual, that the last step ends with the sheer gazing of one's reflection in the mirror. The shine of the shringaar is not merely to dazzle the onlooker, but it is also to express oneself and create one's identity through this process. Women and men from across social strata engage in shringaar, bending divisions of gender and class with shared adornments.
The 16 steps are elaborate and ritualised - each part holding its own tender significance.The cleaning of the body becomes the first step of Shringaar as it elevates one's natural beauty. The second step of the shringaar is the garment worn. Each adornment then added - the maangtika, the armlets, the haathphool, the nathni, becomes crucial choices in the steps of shringaar. Nature plays a part in this practice: gajras are strung together to adorn the hair, perfumes are compressed from the most luxuriant flowers to linger and flour in the air. Anklets (also known as paazebs) become another part of this elaborate ritual, not merely adding flair and rhythm to each step but also grounding the wearing to the elements of the earth. According to Hindu mythology, anklets restore the energy back into the being and link one to the vibrations of the earth.
The chaandbali motif is a recurring design in these jewellery. Crescent moons flanked by shimmering pearls have adorned the partings of hair in maangtika or hung flamboyantly as earrings and chimed with every movement. The kamarband or waistband has been worn by both men and women in Indian history. Made usually of gold or silver, this piece of jewelry brings fertility and health to those who wear it. Perched delicately between two hemispheres of the body, the kamarband worn by women is believed to also bring prosperity. Who then can forget the shringaar of bindi and the kajal which adorn the wearer? The bindi is centred on the forehead of the woman and traditionally is of a red, sensual colour. Kajal lines the wearer's eyes and finds a mention in the writings of the earliest civilisations. The surma has swayed our cultural imagination for centuries now, finding a mention in our poems and songs- warding off evil and heightening the aesthetics of our lives. The eyes are rendered more expressive, with that dark line traced across it - eyes that hold myriad of tales. The tattooing of palms and feet using henna is a much-celebrated part of shringaar in South-Asia, Africa and the Middle-east. Intricate designs are drawn onto palms and feet, replicating the filigree and creepers, the paisleys and the butah of the world around. What is more, it is widely believed that henna detoxifies and cools the body, improves nail and hair quality and growth and speeds up the body's healing processes. Such diverse adornments come together to form the 16 exquisite steps of the shringaar- beautifying lives in ways intimate and leisurely.
There is an abundance in the moments marked out for shringaar. They take all forms - fit themselves easily into small parts of everydays or come with full splendor and elaborate settings during monumental occasions of one's lives. The delights of the body is radicalised as one foundationed on beauty - a true match of the beauty within and without. The monotony of everydays is countered by curating extraordinary beauty as part of the ordinary. A woman allows herself a renewal everyday - ready to put on the selected beauty of the day. It is an act of asserting agency and expressing oneself in ways uniquely personal. On one hand, shringaar ras becomes a part of the unassuming everydays, on the other hand, it also becomes a fragment of the feminine divine which brings in the auspicious new phase.
These cultural artefacts bring with them the moorings of the past and put a glaze of modernity on them. The regalia of beauty continues, as shringaar is curated each morning after coming undone each night - a cycle of everdays lasting an eternity.