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Afghan Snow: India’s first beauty cream and its royal Afghan connection

Legendary actress Devika Rani appeared as the model for the iconic brand Afghan Snow

The other  day my 70-plus year-old friend called me, “have you heard of Afghan snow … while you write all about war, chaos, Taliban etc, you must write about India’s first beauty cream and its Afghan connection.” and the bell started ringing in my mind. We know all about “Kabuliwala” and Afghani almonds and other nuts, this beauty cream was the essential part of most of the household of Indians–from rural to urban. I remember the cream as white as snow was used by my mother and grandmother's generations. Though it was branded as Afghan Snow, it was manufactured in India.

And the story goes when Afghanistan’s king Zaheer Shah, visited United  India in 1919, a young Indian entrepreneur Ebrahim Sultanali Patanwala presented a hamper with all of E. S Patanwala beauty products. Inside the parcel was a jar of pearly white cream without any name. His majesty was impressed and commented that it reminded him of the snow in Afghanistan. Patanwala then asked if the cream could be named ‘Afghan Snow’– a request the king readily agreed to. From then “Afghan Snow” became the first beauty cream made in India. In fact, in its early years of production, the packaging mentioned the connection with the King of Afghanistan.

Soon Patanwala’s offerings gradually drew patronage from the English gentry and princes of India. Maharaja Jhalawar, Maharaja Patiala, Maharaja Gwalior and Maharaja Kota became a part of his choice patrons. According to the company’s web site https://afghan-snow.com/front/about  during the Swadeshi Movement when Mahatma Gandhi  took a pledge to boycott foreign goods, Afghan snow was erroneously listed in the list of foreign goods, but later none other than Mahatma Gandhi endorsed its Indianness.

Soon it would go on to become one the most popular household beauty creams in United India with a tagline, “Your mirror reflects…The True You.” And it was popular in Afghanistan too.  Patanwala used Raj Kapoor, Nargis and Kathak dancer Sitara Devi to first sponsor the Afghan Snow Navy Ball in Mumbai (then Bombay). First Miss India concert was sponsored by Afghan Snow in 1952. Ms. Indrani Rehman was the winner of the event. Most Hindi film actresses including Devika Rani, appeared in Afghan Snow advertisements. The brand held the vast market share till early eighties.

Meanwhile, Afghanistan was in turmoil. King Zahir Shah was deposed and his cousin and the prime minister Mohammed Daoud Khan overthrew his regime and became the President of the country. Daoud was assassinated in 1978, followed by the Soviet invasion. The series of events plunged Afghanistan into the ongoing  turmoil.

Afghan Snow became the  “vanishing” cream in Afghanistan during the Taliban regime.

The Last King of Afghanistan, Zahir Shah returned to his country after three decades,  in 2002  to inspire hope among his people that their shattered homeland can be rebuilt in a new era of peace.

Afghan Snow is still there but has become obsolete. It could not keep up with the changing times of competitive markets and by the end of 1980s,  it was taken over by  bigger brands.

But like Afghanistan, Afghan Snow is also fighting for survival.

Also Read: Burqa prices shoot up in Afghanistan as concerns over safety of women grow