This stellar role in defining ‘femininity’ was supported by a virtual pharmacopeia of traditional hair oils.
That may have been the romantic notion of beauty but Indian women still love their long hair and Indian hair texture today is considered the best in the world. Ask any wig maker or hair stylist.
What hasn’t changed in modern India is the plethora of traditional hair oils often based on Ayurvedic and Unani ( another traditional school of Indian medicine with roots in Persia and Greece ) recipes.
Base oils like mustard, sesame and coconut (depending on the region) are considered essential for pre- wash conditioning. But they are also fantastic carriers for a vast offering of herbs and medicinal plant extracts that can beautify and heal.
Infused with a variety of herbs and plant extracts these oils take on a different character – they will cool or stimulate, soothe into slumber or jolt the memory into alertness, destress, calm and even cure other neural,psychological and ENT issues.
Traditional therapies have clear strictures for balancing that which is out of kilter. But each one can be re-engineered for a more customized offering -skillful additions of flowers like jasmine , champa, kadamba were favoured by maharanis and courtesans because they were heady enough to drive senses crazy.
Brahmi was added to coconut oil to stimulate the memory and learning power of students, Amla was used for hair loss and greying hair, bhringraj, the ‘king’ of herbs was used to prevents hair fall and destress.
The list and combination of herbs and their benefits is a long one. Traditional ayurvedic oils will often have upto 22 herbs in a secretly guarded combination and sometimes combine them with milk proteins like cow’s milk or goat’s milk .
No hair oil in India can fulfil its pre -ordained destiny without the massage that accompanies its absorption.
In choreographed moves that are still replicated in household after household, and by masseur after masseur the oil massage begins with oil poured with uncanny precision over the sahasrarachakra– the highest chakra at the top of the head where it is believed memory and intelligence meet and then the masseur’s hands move across pressure points on the temples, back of the head and nape of the neck to pound out stress, boost circulation and infuse the oil into the scalp.
Here’s a list of generic oils with their key ingredients. Be warned they are strong smelling but they wash off easily though traditional wisdom says the oil should be left on overnight.
Star ingredient : Red hibiscus,marigold, castor oil,coconut oil and aloe vera
Benefit: Enhances hair colour and growth
Star ingredient: Jabapushpa (hibiscus), mint flowers,lata kasturi and menthol. It is a cooling oil recommended for summer. A little too strong on the menthol and camphor for my liking.
Benefit: Prevents hair fall, stress reliever, can be used as body oil
Star ingredient: Bhringraj and neeli (Indigo) in a sesame oil base
Benefit: Bhringraj, “the king of herbs” balances the doshas, prevents hair fall, stimulates hair growth
Brahmi Amla oil
Star ingredient: Brahmi also known as gotu kala, the must have herb when studying or under stress plus Amla which is high in Vitamin C .Prevents premature graying of hair, enhances hair health
Benefit: Stimulates nerve endings, enhances hair growth and thickness
Star ingredient: sesame oil base, jatamanasi (muskroot) cinnamon, cloves, roses and sandalwood
Benefit: Helps migrane, memory and prevents hair fall
This is the star of South india . It has both sesame and coconut oil, goats milk and a mix of twelve herbs including brhingraj. Prevents dandruff besides hair loss.
Khadi gramudyog www.flipkart.com, Arya Vaidyashala, Kama www.kamaayurveda.com , Forest Essentials www.forestessentialsindia.com, Baidyanath www,baidyanath.com and Dabur www.dabur.com are some of the brands that are reliable and will offer versions of these oils.