Vintage Baby Photo from Madras.
A beautiful baby is just asking for trouble. So the widespread belief across India goes. It’s still a common practice to ward off the evil eye (and used to be much more common) by blighting a child’s good looks with a black smudge of kohl. Usually the mark takes the form of a black circle on the forehead or left cheek. I’ve never come across a star shape before, but I assume it’s for the same purpose.
Another protection against the evil eye – tying a black cord around a baby’s waist. Called nazar battu in Hindi, these purposeful blights aren’t limited to children. An attractive woman may wear a small mark discretely behind her ear. I did in the past have one friend with a breathakingly beautiful college-age sister whom I never saw without a huge black mark painted on her cheek.
There are charms for homes and vehicles – a demon-like mask hung above a gate, a string of chilis and lemon, Kan Drishti Vinayagar (a particular image of Ganesh known for thwarting the evil eye), as well as various other regional icons. Even sarees may be woven with a purposeful flaw.
Aside from the starry additions to the model, another special element of this vintage photograph is the colourful studio name. Shanthi’s Photo Castle. How fantastical.
Click here for a striking Warhol-style hand-coloured vintage Indian photograph.
If any readers have any insight about the star-shaped markings or have any traditional evil eye protections from your region to share, feel free to do so in the comments.