hair's colour in Sanskrit

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vidya at
Wed May 7 20:23:00 UTC 1997

On Wed, 7 May 1997, Aditya, the Hindu Skeptic wrote:


> The real discrimination in
> India is based on caste and not color although Varna is also a synonym
> for color. When they refer to color they instinctively mean Varna.

Ohh, come on! Indians can be extremely obsessed with skin color, and will
prefer lighter skin, especially in the person they want to marry. Look at
any matrimonial ad in any national newspaper. You will leave with the
impression that all Indian girls are fair, or have a "wheatish"
complexion, and that all Indian boys are tall, dark and handsome. Of
course, the girls are all beautiful and "homely" at the same time! 

We may not have many words for distinguishing among various tints and
shades of skin color, but we perceive such differences nonetheless. Given
a population, the judgments are always relative, but the attitudes towards
skin color do exist. I postulate that Indian languages do not have many
words for different kinds of pigmentation, only because we like to
maintain the convenient fiction that we are all light-skinned, and that
if dark skin occurs, it is an aberration rather than the rule! Of course,
too light a skin color can be a minus, especially if accompanied by light
eyes and hair - in Bombay, it is standard procedure to tease one's
konkaNastha brAhmaNa classmates with an allegation of some unknown
European (particularly Portuguese) ancestry.

The instinctive Indian attitudes towards skin color are seen very
readily among Indians settled abroad, presumably an educated and
enlightened set. Don't tell me you haven't heard Indians in the US
referring to a black man as "kallU" and Hispanics as "makku" (derived from
the word 'Mexican', makku has a negative meaning in south Indian tongues).
Of course, we Indians can be very democratic in our attitudes: the word
"gorA" can be as derogatory as "kallU"!

In India, any "instinctive" reference to Varna when talking of skin color
is based upon the assumption that a dark skinned person has to be
necessarily of a lower caste than oneself. Although one can find the
darkest skins among brAhmaNas, even in Bihar and other northern places,
and very light skin among some of the scheduled castes and tribes. 


More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list