Rare and very collectible Indian “perfume” comb for grooming hair or beard.
CONDITION: good vintage condition
SIZE: 2 ins h x 3½ ins w (5 x 9 cms)
APPROXIMATE DATE: late 19th century
PROVENANCE: private collection, London
This wonderful comb probably comes from Rajasthan, a province in north India. It is made from white metal which tests as silver.
The comb takes a roughly half moon shaped form on top, and has an engraved design of flowers and foliage within a geometric border. The flower probably represents the lotus which is placed in the centre of the panel. A single row of very fine teeth is placed beneath this ornamental panel.
Two confronting birds which are further embellished with silver gilt are perched on the top. These are formalised representation of peacocks, the national bird of India. Peacocks are found everywhere in Indian art. The final illustration shows the entrance to the palace of Jaipur, capital of Rajasthan, and the famous arch adorned with peacock mosaics.
The top of the comb is hollow, and contains a well which may be filled with perfume or perfumed oil. This is closed op by a decorative finial, which acts as a stopped. It unscrews so that the chamber may be filled. The central chamber is pieced by small holes, set between the fine metal teeth. By this means the perfume is then dispersed in small amounts as the comb is drawn through the hair.
Throughout the Victorian period, with India as part of the British Empire, men took their families on the long voyage east to serve in some remote outpost. When Queen Victorian became Empress of India in 1876 the popularity of Indian made and Indian inspired artefacts in Britain increased. Indian workmanship was elaborate, exotic and completely different from that available in the Western world and there were those who collected it eagerly. That is how many unusual hair ornaments and accessories have come to Western shores.
The Indian subcontinent presents us with a rich history of lavish articles of personal adornment and grooming. Although gold may have been the material of choice for the wealthy, silver was relatively affordable and constituted the major part of jewelry worn by women. The lustrous long black hair of Indian women provided an ideal foil for lavish jewellery and was also an attribute of which they took great personal care. Additionally jewellery and items of personal care such as combs, mirrors, perfumes, oil and kohl symbolised religious adherence, marital status, and caste and formed part of a dowry which a girl brought to marriage.
The elaborate hair styles which we see in carvings and miniature paintings could not have been achieved without combs to groom the hair. A traditional form for such combs in the state of Rajasthan was the so called “perfume” comb which is almost always surmounted by confronting peacocks.
The peacock is India’s national bird and holds an important place in Hindu epic poetry and mythology. The Peacock is associated with the goddess Lakshmi who is a deity representing benevolence, patience, kindness, compassion and good luck.
In Rajasthan’s miniature paintings, peacocks provide companionship to wistful nayikas or romantic heroines.
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