Shringara Rasa is supposedly the crown emotion associated with love and beauty. The other Rasas or emotions are Hasya (laughter/happiness), Karuna (compassion), Roudra (anger), Veera (valour), Bhayanaka (fear), Bibhatsa (disgust), Adbhuta (wonder)and Shantha (peace/tranquillity). Rasa, as per Indian aesthetics, means essence or emotions and these nine emotions or Navarasas are fundamental to Indian arts be it dance, music, painting literature or poetry. Coming back to the crown Rasa Shringara, it is the essence of Indian romantic literature. Be it Parvati wooing the hermit Shiva or the eager wait of Radha to surreptitiously meet Krishna, Shringara or the art of a woman dressing up by adorning herself with jewellery and flowers to entice her beloved, was considered to be an important ritual. There are numerous verses or images that show an angry Radha tossing of her jewellery, flowers, and embellishments when her lover boy Krishna fails to show up, for she had dressed up for his eyes only.
Solah Shringar is the art of a woman adorning herself from head to toe with sixteen embellishments to look beautiful and desirable for her lover or her man. Hindu brides on their wedding day are supposed to perform Solah Shringar comprising bindi, necklaces, earrings, flowers in the hair, finger rings, bangles, armlets, waistbands, ankle-bells, kajal, toe-rings, henna, perfume, sandalwood paste, the upper garment and lower garment. A modern Indian bride though tweaks this ritual as per her taste and convenience. And how beautiful a bride looks. As a little girl, I wanted to be a bride just so I could dress up like that and wear all those ornaments. The groom was of no consequence.
Surprisingly, while a woman takes so much trouble to adorn herself, there’s hardly any reference of men performing Shringara for their lady love. Though elaborate rituals of Krishna’s Shringara are performed in temples, we rarely come across any anecdote of this dark and mischievous God taking pains to dress up for Radha. Shiva or Mahadev is supposed to be dishevelled, he’s an ascetic after all. Even in modern times, there’s so much talk about bridal make-up, one hardly gets to hear about the groom. So, don’t men care about looks. The growing number of men frequenting beauty parlours would suggest otherwise. It’s just that we rarely come across any image or reference of a man dressing up to present himself to a woman. A man is supposed to win a woman with his valour and wisdom, while the damsel can lure him with her beauty and looks. An allusion that any woman today will find ridiculous and disturbing.
And the funny thing is, most ‘modern’ men still seem to think that we women adorn ourselves for their sake, an assumption that can be both hilarious and annoying. This has become quite a nuisance for a friend mine, who’s separated but happens to share the same house with her husband, “The other day I felt like dressing up, so I wore a nice dress and put on some make-up. When I entered the kitchen, my husband followed me there and started looking at me curiously. I was shocked when he flirtatiously suggested that I dressed up for him.” One predicament of having to share a house with her separated husband is that my friend just can’t dress up without him boasting about it. “I keep telling him we are over, and it has nothing to him, but he refuses to get it. It’s annoying,” she says exasperated. “And now that we are locked in, I can dress up the way I please, I can experiment with my hairstyle and makeup without having to deal with people’s opinion,” she adds with a smile.
Yes, we women love to dress up, we enjoy indulging in Shringara immensely, because it pleases us. We occasionally dress up to indulge someone special when we are in the mood. We dress up for work, we dress up for meetings, we dress up for our evening outings. For dressing up is so much more than Solah Shringar, there’s power dressing, board room dressing, leisure dressing and more, and we like to dress appropriately for every occasion, with the right makeup and jewellery. We may dress to impress, we may dress to make a statement, but most importantly we dress up because we love to look good, that feels so great!
If the skirt is too short, the dress is too tight, or the neckline too revealing that’s because we have the confidence to carry an outfit like that, we are comfortable with our body. We dress as per our mood, as per the weather, as per the occasion, as per our comfort and convenience. The colour of our lipstick reflects our personality. If it pleases men to see us so well dressed that’s a bonus. We appreciate gentlemanly compliments but do remember we took all the trouble to suit our whims and fancies. And if you decide to approach us you better be well groomed, for no matter what they say we don’t like shabby men.