Cosmetics, Costumes and Ornaments in Ancient India

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

This page relates ‘Articles of make-up (a): Mirror’ 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.

5. Articles of make-up (a): Mirror

Mirror was not only an article of toilet, but it was necessary for all ceremonial occasions. The earliest mention of a mirror is perhaps in Gṛhyasūtras. Usually mirrors were circular in shape and were probably made of highly polished metals. We have no reference to the use of glass made mirrors. However mirrors of aristocrats were ornamented. They had golden frame and sometimes it was studded with jewels. Mirrors were made as gift also. We have plenty of references to mirrors and their use in our literature.

As mentioned earlier, Gṛhyasūtras mention mirrors frequently in connection with various rituals. Kātyāyana-gṛhyasūtra[1] suggests mirror as the object, which a child has to be seen at first. In Śāṅkhāyana-gṛhyasūtra[2], it is recorded that at the marriage ceremony, a mirror is to be placed in the left hand of the bride by the bridegroom. Matsyapurāṇa[3] suggests that the main pillars of palace should be set with mirrors. There in another context we read of the seven oceans served as mirror for Śiva, during the dressing on his wedding day[4]. In Skandapurāṇa[5], we meet with the mirror studded poles and banners for Indramaha, a festival conducted in honour of Indra. The text recommends a seat decorated with mirror for the reciter of Purāṇas[6]. There in another context it is told that giving mirrors as offerings to Śiva or as gift to the followers of Śaivism is auspicious and is considered that he will be reborn as an attendant of Śiva[7]. It is believed that one’s reflection in the mirror is the soul itself and hence presenting mirror to Śiva is a symbol of the protection of soul from death[8].

In another place seven sages are described as looking on a mirror to see Śiva on the occasion of his marriage; for people were not permitted to see the bridegroom directly just after the marriage. Hence a mirror was employed to see him for the first time after the wedding[9]. In Raghuvaṃśa[10] Kālidāsa refers to a mirror of gold. In the seventh sarga of Kumārasambhava[11], we meet with Pārvatī well dressed for the marriage ceremony holding a mirror on her left hand. Kālidāsa compares the ill fame fall on the noble Sūrya dynasty, to a stain formed on the mirror by watery vapour[12]. This simile of Kālidāsa gives indication to the well polished mirrors that were in vogue in those days. In Bṛhatsaṃhitā[13], Varāhamihira also alludes to a mirror, which spreads light into a dark room. This also attests the use of brighten mirrors by our ancestors. Daṇḍi[14] and Aśvaghoṣa[15] allude to mirrors with jewelled frames.

Rājavallabha-nighaṇṭu describes the merits of looking on a mirror thus—


As per this verse, looking on a mirror is good for longevity. It provides wealth and dispels one’s sin. According to some beliefs recorded in Bṛhatsaṃhitā[17], looking on a mirror in the morning and also at the end of a journey is auspicious. But it is considered inauspicious to look into a dirty mirror.

Footnotes and references:




I.12.7, 6.9




Matsyapurāṇa, 154.447




Ibid, VII.3,15


Ibid, I.5.50


Ibid, 18.32


Ibid, I.2.26.22


XVII. 26




Raghuvaṃśa, XIV.37




Saundarananda, 4.3





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