Cosmetics, Costumes and Ornaments in Ancient India

by Remadevi. O. | 2009 | 54,177 words

This page relates ‘Pharmaceutical use of Anjana (Collyrium)’ of the study on cosmetics, costumes and ornaments of ancient India based on Sanskrit sources. Chapter one deals with cosmetics and methods of enhancing beauty; Chapter two deals with costumes, garments and dresses; Chapter three deals with ornaments for humans and animals. Each chapter deals with their respective materials, types, preparation and trade, as prevalent in ancient Indian society.

2.2. Pharmaceutical use of Añjana (Collyrium)

The practice of applying collyrium into the eyes is very old. It was treated not only as a cosmetic, but was considered essential for eye’s health. Both men and women including celibates applied collyrium. Añjana otherwise known as Kajjala is varied according either to origin or to the substance from which it is prepared. Collyrium was applied into the eyes with the help of a stick called Śalākā. This stick was sometimes made of gold. Porcupine quill -Śalalī also was used for this purpose. We have reference to the practice of anointing eye with collyrium in our literature ranging from Vedas. Atharvaveda[1] contains some hymns, which describe the dressing of a bride. There the bride is represented as applying collyrium in the eyes. Manusmṛti[2] insists on applying collyrium by Snātaka after having bath. But he does not allow a Snātaka to look at women, who have anointed their eyes with collyrium. A student is not permitted to use eye salve. Āpastamba-gṛhyasūtra[3] also recommends Añjana for a celibate, who has completed his study. Aitareya-brāhmaṇa[4] records the custom of anointing a sacrificer’s eye by the priest. Matsyapurāṇa[5] attests a golden Śalākā used to apply collyrium. In Nāṭyaśāstra[6], Bharata recommends collyrium for characters along with other articles of make-up. But a woman in separation doesn’t anoint her eyes with collyrium. Kālidāsa[7] describes such women frequently. In Uttaramegha, he represents the wife of Yakṣa, without having collyrium in her eyes. It was an important item among the articles of toilet of a Nāgaraka.

a) Types of Collyrium

Pāṇini[8] mentions three types of collyrium, namely Sauvīra, Yāmuna and Traikakuda. Of these, Traikakuda is considered superior and is taken from the mountain Trikakuda. Sauvīrāñjana is powdered antimony and Yāmuna is found in the region of Yamuna. It is also known as Kālakūṭāñjana and is referred to in Pañcaviṃśa-brāhmaṇa[9]. Caraka[10] records Sauvīrāñjana and Rasāñjana. He describes Sauvīrāñjana as strong and hence it should be applied only at night, while Rasāñjana is recommended to apply once in five or eight days. Regarding the source of Rasāñjana, different opinions exist. According to some, it is Berberi Ariṣṭa. Others view it as prepared from lead, while some others are of the opinion that Rasāñjana is made from the calx of brass. Śārṅgadharasaṃhitā[11] discusses different types of collyrium, their preparation, procedures for applying it in to the eyes etc. Red collyrium prepared from Manaḥśilā also was used. Mahābhārata[12] alludes to this collyrium being used by the women belonging to the Bāḥlikā province.

b) Properties of Collyrium

As mentioned in the introduction, collyrium is not only an article of toilet, but it helps to improve vision and provide brightness to the eyes. According to Caraka[13] and Suśruta[14], collyrium alleviates the excess Kapha, which accumulates in the eyes and thus brightens the eyes. Caraka[15] compares the brighten eye to the moon in the clear sky. Suśruta-saṃhitā[16] speaks of the vessels in which collyrium is to be kept. Such vessels may be made of gold, silver, copper, bell metal or iron. One may apply collyrium in the morning, afternoon or night in accordance with the season and the variety of collyrium.

Besides collyrium, Suśruta[17] recommends some other treatments for attaining good eye sight, even in the old age. Some of them are–Tarpaṇa (Flushing), Puṭapāka, Aścyotana (Application of medicated eye drops) and Seka. Of these, Puṭapāka is again of three types—Snehana (Oilbase), Lekhana (Scraping) and Ropaṇa (Healing).

Footnotes and references:


XIV; India in the Age of Mantras, p.79












Uttaramegha, 23


Aṣṭādhyāyī (Aṣṭādhyāyī),V.4.147








VIII.30, vv.16-22











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