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Peter J. Claus pclaus at
Sat May 10 17:16:21 UTC 1997

Date: May 10, 1997 
Indology List
indology at
Dear Members,
The several threads regarding skin and hair color have
been interesting.  
Hair length and color are significant in several genres
of folklore.  There is, for example, a fairly wide-
spread motif (found in at least Kannada and Tulu,
associated with several tale-types) of a person finding
a hair dislodged from the head someone who is bathing:
the hair is often described as GOLDEN (bangara),
meaning what, exactly, is up for conjecture. The tale
in which this motif is found, has it that a sister is
bathing upstream and downstream her brother sees a
shining golden hair floating in the stream and vows to
marry the girl who hair it is. AK Ramanujan comments
(1983. "Hanchi: a Kannada Cinderella" in Cinderella, A
Casebook, Alan Dundes, ed.) "Blonde hair is unheard of
in Dravidian South India and would be considered
grotesque on a Kannada girl.  So the hair in this well-
known European motif is seen here as actually made of
gold, exerting a magical influence on the onlookers..."
Hair length and color are characteristic of several
heroes in oral epics.  In Kannada I know of one in
which a similar theme to the one above applies to the
hair of a male hero (Golla Iranna), a strand of whose
7-yard long hair floats away in a stream while he is
bathing which then shimmers like gold and is eaten by a
fish which then shimmers, too.  Eventually a woman
hears of the fish and finds the hair and seeing it
falls in love with our hero.
In the Tulu epic of Koti-Chennaya, the younger brother,
fiercer than the older, is described as having reddish
skin and hair.
Various caste/community groups in Karnataka and Andhra
are described by their skin color: Erra (red) Gollas,
eg. The Chenchus are sometimes described as reddish
(the root chen- 'beauty, attractive') seems to imply
red. And, of course, the British are usually described
as red (but I don't think with the association of
attractive!)   Shades of Indra.
It seems clear that there are at least three or more
kinds (not necessarily related or correlated) of color-
related hierarchies operative in India: 
caste (jati) is only vaguely associated with skin-color
(there are people of a wide range within any one caste;
but still, a general expectation that the higher the
caste, the lighter the skin).
varna is related to an abstract color scheme, with
white associated with Brahman, red with ksatriya, or
yellow with vaisya, black with sudra; and various
stereotypical behaviors correlated with this.
An aesthetic dimension to personal skin color, with
light being regarded as more attractive than dark (but
there also being a feeling that a woman should be
lighter than her mate).
Are there more than these?
Peter J. Claus                        
fax: (510) 704-9636
pclaus at

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