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Bengal’s Jabakusum Hair Oil - First Asian brand advertised in The Bengal Gazette

9 March, 2021 15:08:50
Bengal’s Jabakusum Hair Oil - First Asian brand advertised in The Bengal Gazette

‘Life isn’t perfect, but your hair can be…’

Since ancient times, poets have been singing paeans to women possessing long, glossy, thick, black hair and it was seen as a potent symbol of female power as well as seduction in India. A virtual pharmacopeia of traditional hair oils supported this definition of feminine beauty. In fact, most Indian women still love their long, lustrous hair and are willing to go to any extent to take good care of their hair. As a result, a plethora of traditional hair oils based on Ayurvedic and Unani (another traditional school of Indian medicine with roots in Persia and Greece) recipes thrive.

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 cool or stimulate, soothe into slumber or jolt the memory into alertness, de-stress, calm and even cure other neural, psychological and ENT issues. 

Chandra Kanta Sen (C.K. Sen) who turned the tress tales into a successful business venture. He hailed from a family of distinguished ‘Vaidyas’ (practitioners of traditional Ayurvedic medicines). His uncle, ‘Kabiraj’ Binodlal Sen had formulated ‘Kuntalbrisha’ a hair oil that enhanced the quality of hair, its growth and volume and stop graying.

The list and combination of herbs and their benefits is a long one. Brahmi was added to coconut oil to stimulate the memory and learning power of students, Amla was used to stop hair fall and graying hair, bhringraj, the ‘king’ of herbs was used to prevents hair fall and de-stress. Extracts of flowers like jasmine, champa, kadamba were added to oil to make a heady concoction that would attract attention.

But to combine them all, came Chandra Kanta Sen (C.K. Sen) who turned the tress tales into a successful business venture. He hailed from a family of distinguished ‘Vaidyas’ (practitioners of traditional Ayurvedic medicines). His uncle, ‘Kabiraj’ Binodlal Sen had formulated ‘Kuntalbrisha’ a hair oil that enhanced the quality of hair, its growth and volume and stop graying. C.K. Sen was an enterprising man who wanted to venture out and create a bigger market for the family’s traditional Ayurvedic products. In 1878, he launched C.K. Sen & Company Private Limited with the idea of propagating genuine Ayurvedic medicine in commercial lines. He started with the manufacturing of Jabakusum Taila, a hair oil using ancient formulae that had immense medicinal values. The star ingredients used in such a case included Jasund (red hibiscus flowers), which is used as a natural source for hair care since ancient times, marigold, castor oil, coconut oil and aloe vera. He struck gold as soon as the hair oil was launched in the market. It became an instant hit. 

Thus was born the famous Jabakusum oil, the first hair oil to publish an advertisement in Bengal Gazette. Jabakusum Hair Oil was marketed as “The Royal Toilette” and ‘By the appointment to the Princess of India.’ These tag lines created magic and the masses lapped it up. Jabakusum  was also the first hair oil brand in Asia to commission  a film advertisement which was made by Hiralal Sen, considered as one of India’s first filmmakers. A noted photographer, he is also credited with creating India's first advertising film.

Two more Indian hair oil brands appeared simultaneously – Himkalyan Hair Oil by Nagendranath Shastri and ‘Kabiraj’ S.N. Sen’s Keshranjan Tel which was marked with the words “Under princely patronage” on the container. 

Jabakusum Hair Oil was marketed as “The Royal Toilette” and ‘By the appointment to the Princess of India.’ These tag lines created magic and the masses lapped it up. Jabakusum was also the first hair oil brand in Asia to commission a film advertisement which was made by Hiralal Sen, considered as one of India’s first filmmakers.

Another product from the stable of C.K. Sen that was once very popular among the masses was Basanta Malati body lotion. No Bengali bride’s trousseau would be complete without the customary inclusion of a bottle or two of Jabakusum Hair Oil and Basanta Malati lotion.

But times changed and so did tastes. Women no longer liked or patronized the pronounced scent of the Jabakusum hair oil and its stickiness. Gradually its demand decreased and the market was flooded with a wide range of non-sticky hair oil. The country-wide monopoly of a Bengali brand gradually became inconsequential. Yet, it being one of the firsts, cannot be denied. 

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