In the course of his travel through Central India, a British military doctor, Henry Harpur Spry, makes an admiring reference to Hindu women and wonders how they manage to acquire their ‘inviting figures’ without the use of corsets that were then popular with European women. He has recorded his observations in the book, “ModernIndia: with illustrations of the resources and capabilities of Hindustan ...,Volume 2,” published in 1837. ( page 133)
The women, especially those in the large towns, have inviting figures, with an erect and elastic gait. No man can have lounged at a ghat, or ridden through a town, without being sensibly struck with the pleasing gestures and graceful actions of the softer sex; and did they possess faces only half so attractive as their persons, the hearts of the gazers would be in imminent danger. Corset makers find no employment in India, and yet the ladies of Hindustan possess forms which cannot be surpassed. When they have the advantage of a pretty face, in addition to their well-developed person, it is only just that they should lord it a little over those to whom Nature has not been so bountiful.The extraordinary degree of gracefulness and elasticity displayed by these women may be attributed in part to an artificial cause, although a corset, as I have just remarked, or anything resembling it, is, I believe, unknown to them. From their earliest childhood they are taught to carry vessels on the head, and, as they grow up, a daily morning visit is paid to the village or town well for a supply of water, which is always brought home by the girls in earthen jars, thus poised. This exercise has the effect of bringing all the muscles of the back into action, and consequently strengthening the spine; while the chest is thrown forward and expanded. We see no crooked backs, or shoulders, out in Hindustan. This employment teaches them, as they walk, to permit the centre of gravity to fall on the middle of the foot, giving them, as they go along, a firm and upright gait.I have long been of opinion that this course, if followed by the persons conducting boarding schools at home, as a calisthenic exercise, would be infinitely more effectual than the method now pursued, to give tone and muscular powers to the delicate frames of young females; and the benefits derivable from it would, I think, be so apparent as to supersede the present machinery of dumb-bells, back-boards, hoops, and skipping-ropes. In order to secure the success of the undertaking, it will be necessary to model the jars employed in strict accordance both in size and shape to the lotah and gurrah used in Hindustan. The former is made of brass, and contains about a pint; the latter is earthenware, and varies in size from a quart to a gallon.The following sketch will convey to the reader an idea of the forms of these two vessels.
They might first be poised on the head, and then carried forward and backward filled with water, by the assistance of one hand only. After a steady upright step has been attained, the bearer should make the attempt without the assistance of either hand, and in six months, I have no doubt, a manifest alteration for the better would be discernible.