Small Indian child with kohl applied in spots to ward off 'the evil eye', South India. Kohl is an ancient eye cosmetic.


Kohl is applied to toddlers to protect them from 'buri nazar'. 'Buri nazar' literally means 'bad glance' and is comparable to the 'evil eye', although it can be interpreted as ill-wishes of people. Toddlers and young children are traditionally regarded as perfect and are likely to attract the 'evil eye'. Mothers apply a spot of kohl on their children's cheeks or on the forehead to make the child imperfect and thus ward off evil (jealous) eyes. Kohl is an ancient eye cosmetic. It is a word in many languages: Arabic: كحل‎ kuḥl; Hindi: काजल kājal; Malayalam: kaNmashi / suRuma; Somali: kuul; Telugu: Katuka; Tamil: Kan Mai. It is also known as kol, kehal or kohal in the Arab world, and surma or kajal in South Asia. Kohl has been worn traditionally as far back as the Bronze Age (3500 B.C. onward) by the Egyptian queens. It was originally used as protection against eye ailments. There was also a belief that darkening around the eyes would protect one from the harsh rays of the sun. India's oldest caste, the koli, used kohl as a cosmetic. In addition, mothers would apply kohl to their infants' eyes soon after birth. Some did this to "strengthen the child's eyes", and others believed it could prevent the child from being cursed by the evil eye.[1] Kohl's ancient importance survives through its use as the etymological root for the English word alcohol.