Thursday, November 6, 2008

Fable of Kashmiri Beauty (types) as told by Walter Lawrence

In 1889, Walter Roper Lawrence came to Kashmir as the British Settlement Commissioner for land and apparently did a good job: Prithivi Nath Kaul Bamzai in his book Culture and Political History of Kashmir (1994) writes that “His land settlement in the State marks a turning point in the economic and social history of its people”.

As regards the “Beauty of the women”, Walter Lawrence was probably the first to make a distinction between the beauties of various tribes of Kashmiri women. He wrote in his book The Valley of Kashmir (1895):
“As regards the beauty of the women it is difficult to speak, but I have seen thousands of women in the villages and cannot remember, save one or two exceptions, ever seeing a really beautiful face. They seem to age very quickly, and though the children are often lovely the average woman is plain. Beauty, not ‘beauty born of murmuring sound,’ is perhaps more common among the Hánjis and the Wátals, but the old and prevailing idea among the natives of Hindustán, as to the beauty of the Kashmíri women, is probably due to the healthy, rosy cheeks that many of them have, so different from the wheaten hue of India. In the city there is the well-bred Panditáni, whose easier, more refined life makes beauty less difficult to inherit and keep than it is for her hard-worked and weather-worn sister of the villages, and I should say that if the fabled beauty of the Kashmíri really exists it is to be found in Srinagar and not in the villages of the valley. Apart from early marriage, hard work and exposure, the peasant women are often cruelly disfigured by smallpox, and though beauty may be found in the house of some affluent village headman, it does not show itself in the field where the women song and work.”

And as was the tradition, he then went on to quote the lines of Bernier and Marco Polo on the subject of Kashmiri beauty, but in between these lines he also wrote that:
“One ingenious writer suggests that the decadence of beauty of Kashmir is due to the fact that the fairest of Kashmir’s women were taken away to India, and that the stock whence beauty might be bred has disappeared.”
That "ingenious writer" was, of course, Victor Jacquemont – the Frenchman who had famously called the Kashmiri women: "hideous witches". It was Victor Jacquemont who wrote that:
“It is true that all little girls who promise to turn out pretty, are sold at eight years of age, and carried off into the Punjab and India. Their parents sell them at from twenty to three hundred francs — most commonly fifty or sixty."
Later, these lines were widely quoted by various travelers and writer (on one occasion even in an article on Kashmiri women published in Blackwood's Magazine in 1875), and have since then remained widely in currency as an explanation for the "lack of beauty in Kashmir”.
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This is page 5 of the series Fables of Kashmiri Beauty

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Previous pages:
Next pages:
  • Fable of Ugly Kashmiri as explained in a Magazine: page 6
  • Fable of Kashmiri Beauty (generally) as told by Younghusband: page 7
  • Guide to the Fable of Kashmiri Beauty as given in a Tourist Book: page 8

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