Eyes are the windows to the soul, and mine are almost always draped. By draped, I mean my beloved and trusted Kohl (eyeliner). I wear it a lot. Religiously. I love makeup but I’m not fussy about it . . . just my Kohl. It is most definitely the be all, end all, and do all for me. An inseparable part of my being and identity and a near-permanent fixture on my face to the extent that I feel naked without it. Be it a thin rim around my eyes, a more dramatic overkill (typical Oshin) or an old fashioned wing-tip, my eyes are always dressed. For my comfort or beauty or my wild superstitions.
Being the oldest and most wide-spread cosmetic (historically and geographically), Kohl has been known by many names to different peoples. The inventors of Kohl were the ancient Egyptians and this name is what it has been referred to within and around most of North Africa and the Middle East. In the Mediterranean (ancient Greece & Rome) it was called Kollurion. The Iranians and Pakistanis referred to it as Surma while the Indians call it Kajol. And in Swahili we simply say Wanja. Kohl, traditionally, is composed of a natural compound called Galena that is powdered and mixed with everything from precious minerals like pearls/gold/silver/emeralds and rubies and dissolved in either oil/gum//animal fats/milk/water to make application easier.
This heaven-sent makeup must, has been a fashion statement for decades sported by everyone from the iconic Elizabeth Taylor and Sophia Loren, to Naomi Campbell, Avril Lavigne and Kim Kardashian. It is a staple on most Indian and Middle Eastern/Arabian/Horn of Africa women. In Ancient Egypt, it was adorned by all: divinity (think Eye of Horus), royalty and peasants alike. Contemporarily, mostly wear it for aesthetic purposes, but, back then it was considered to have compelling magical attributes, and real ophthalmological properties. It was (and I LIVE by this due to my culture) believed to protect against the evil eye; define, enhance and brighten eyes; minimize the glare from the harsh dessert sun (the original Ray Bans?); fend off insects; and shape the eyebrows! So much win! It has been used since the Bronze Age (circa 3500 AD) and has even been referenced in the Bible’s Old Testament by mention of “painted eyes”.
Whether pencil, liquid liner, gel liner, or my personal preference – the ground powder and stick Kohl in the little metal pots and the tiny Indian stick tubes – the colours and hues are endless. Black, brown, blue, green, and all 50 shades of grey even. So next time you smear some on, remember that you are partaking in the oldest form of cosmetic adornment known to us humans, applying a little bit of old science and maybe even some magic! Sometimes beauty is the ultimate throwback and my old soul loves history.