For your eyes only

surma kajal








Who can forget the iconic smoky-eyed look of Jack Sparrow, Captain of the Black Pearl, in the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’? Or Sarah Jessica Parker as Carrie Bradshaw getting ready to meet her ex-boyfriend Aidan in Abu Dhabi in ‘Sex and the City 2’?
While pop culture occasionally puts the spotlight on kohl, the application of this eye cosmetic is no novelty. Since time immemorial, kohl has had a reputation of making eyes look healthier, more beautiful, and even helping ward-off ‘evil eye’.
Out of the various types of kohl, surma, derived from the Persian word for kohl, sorme, gives the eyes a smudged look. Besides making them look mystically smoky, the cosmetic is also considered to have a cleansing and soothing effect on the eyes.
Surma is usually available in powdered form, processed from the surma stone, and is preserved in tiny glass or metal vials. Muslims usually apply surma (using a glass probe) ahead of namaz and/or before going to bed.
Legend has it that while in the desert of Sinai, Prophet Musa left his followers under the guidance of Harun to go to Koh-e-Tur mountain, the biblical mount Sinai, to pray to Allah for guidance to find water.
Allah then bestowed upon Musa commandments for his people to follow. Musa begged Allah to reveal Himself to him, and Allah agreed to shed an ounce of His divinity upon him. Musa then saw a blazing light; this light, which appeared to be like fire, was actually the reflection of Allah. The spark left the mountain charred, and it is this charred stone which is ground and used as Surma.
“The values that were passed down to Muslims millennia ago are still practiced by many,” says Zuber Jamadar, whose family has been selling surma in Belagavi for the past 20 years. “We have products ranging from Rs 10 to Rs 75, depending on quantity and brand. We order 50 dozen bottles of surma, all of which are sold within three months’ time.”
Businessman Shakeel Talikoti from where in Belgaum, sells about 25 varieties of surma and says that though each variation is unlike the other, its motto is the same; giving relief to the eyes and enhancing the look.”These variants are different from each other due to ingredients added to the surma stone,” he says. “Only after each ingredient is carefully diagnosed and its portions varied is the final product made.”
He further added that in times gone by, surma used to be imported from Arab countries, but over the decades, this kohl is being indigenously manufactured. “My customers mostly prefer India’s Khojati surma and the Pakistan-made Hashmi surma.”
The Mumbai-based Khojati group of companies is perhaps the big boss of surma in the country, with a legacy going back over 160 years.
“We push our products through ittar (organic perfumes) shops all over the country. These retailers have been buying from us for decades,” says Shakir Banatwala, a spokesperson for the Khojati group of companies.
But surma is not without its critics. Some argue that it contains high lead content, which could have damaging effects on the eyes in the long run.

Banatwala disagrees. “Surma is 100% natural, devoid of any chemicals,” he says. “Most companies only crush the surma stone and sell its powders. We treat the surma with rose water and a few more herbs and purify it of toxins before we package it,” he added, referring to variants of the surma that contain mamira herb, ground pearls from Iraq, almond oil, and the like.
“Also, surma is put on the periphery of the body in the eyes; it’s not directly absorbed in the body. Khojati surma does not have high lead content and adheres to FDA norms. If I didn’t believe in using organic surma, I wouldn’t have sold it.”
(Nida Sayed | May 17, 2015, 01.21 AM IST, A Times of India article)

Short URL: