aspara from cambodia

Aspara from Cambodia

This face powder box is a fairly recent addition to my collection. The name may be either an accidental or deliberate misspelling of Rambha. In Hindu mythology Rambha is the Queen of the Apsarases, who are magical and beautiful female beings in Devaloka (the plane on which gods exist). 

Rambha is accomplished in the arts of dancing, music and love-making.  When you’re a beautiful and talented woman you can bet that men are going to ask something of you.  In Rambha’s case she was frequently directed by Indra, the king of the Devas (angels) to seduce men (in particular those men practicing asceticism). The gods couldn’t risk having ascetics become more powerful than they were and one tried and true way to check a man’s devotion is to place an alluring woman within reach.  If a man could resist Rambha’s charms, then his penance was pure.

Rambha ran afoul of Rishi Vishwamitra (who was attempting to become a Brahmarishi).  Rather than merely resist the temptation presented by Rambha, Rishi cursed her and Rambha became a rock for 10,000 years!  Couldn’t he have just said no?

theodore roosevelt_1910_harvard college libraryThe design of the Rembha box indicates that it was made during the 1920s. It reflects the craze at the time for all things exotic, especially with an Egyptian flair. Theodore Roosevelt had travelled to Egypt in 1910, and King Tutankhamen’s tomb was discovered in 1922.  The box appears to blend the art of a few different cultures in order to achieve the overall effect. 

There is a hint of the Apsarases for instance, as in the photo.  There also appears to be a gryphon-like creature in the background.

The box itself is comprised of cardboard and paper which makes it all the more amazing that there is a slight bevel at the top!  It is an exquisite detail, and I would imagine this particular face powder would have been one of the pricier brands available.griffin

The research that I did revealed that the Boerner-Fry Company, that made the powder, was in business during the 1920s. In fact, Dr. Emil Boerner was a Prussian immigrant who built a factory in downtown Iowa City, Iowa in which he produced vanilla extract, perfumes and pharmaceuticals. 


Boerner-Fry Building

Dr. Boerner graduated from the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy in 1876.  That same year he returned to Iowa and opened the Boerner Pharmacy. Boerner was primarily responsible for founding the pharmacy department at the University of Iowa and in 1885 he served as the sole faculty member to 13 enrollees (twelve men and one woman).  He passed away in 1903. In 1922 the building that was his factory was converted to the Davis Hotel.

 These days the name Rehmba leads us directly to Bollywood.  Thirty-four year old Amritha is an Indian actress who uses the name Rahmba.  She’s appeared in many South Indian films and some Hindi movies.

I’d never heard of Rahmba, but when I searched for her on Youtube there were dozens of clips with views numbering well into the millions.  My world suddenly felt very small.  I am going to have to keep a closer eye on Bollywood – I’m really missing something.