Sometimes we can hear from certain matajis in our movement that dressing nicely and in an attractive way is “maya”.
H.H. Bhakti Vidya Purna Swami was quoting a Bengali lady who said: “The problem in ISKCON is that unmarried women dress as if they are married, and married women dress as if they are widows.”
In Srimad Bhagavatam 7.11.26, it says what a married woman should look like for her husband:
“A chaste woman must dress nicely and decorate herself with golden ornaments for the pleasure of her husband. Always wearing clean and attractive garments…”
A married woman should look attractive to her husband by dressing in nice saris (of course, if her husband is poor, she should wear whatever is available). A guru/sannyasi in our ISKCON once told me that especially our Western matajis have tendency to buy ugly saris that look like a kitchen towel. I have to agree with him. I was also one of such matajis; when I lived in “brahmacarini” asrama. We thought it was a sign how renounced we were from material things. We would not wear any jewelry or make-up. Of course, at that time, considering that we were sharing a living space with brahmacaris, it was meant also as a protection, so that we DO not attract any of them.
But now after we got married, we should follow instructions from Srimad Bhagavatam prescribed for married women.
We should look beautiful for our husband. That means to dress vibrant and colorful saris, jewelry (Tulasi neckbeads, Mangala-sutra, bangles, bracelets, earrings, ankle bells, toe rings), nail polish (not necessary, but it is welcome), make-up, coloring of hair, decorating our hair with flowers, etc. This is NOT maya for a married woman. This is all part of Sri Krsna’s vedic culture.
We see that all pure devotees of Sri Krsna in Goloka Vrindavana, in the spiritual world are dressed in a very attractive way; we see pictures of Srimati Radharani, gopis, Yasoda-mayi, Rukmini, Draupadi, etc. None of them dresses in “kitchen towel” saris, without any make-up or jewelry.
This is suggested in Srimad Bhagavtam. If someone thinks that this is maya, then WHY get married at all? Marriage is also maya, if we look from that perspective. If we are so renounced from all these “material” things, like decorating our bodies for the pleasure of the husband, then it is better to stay single and truly renounced, instead of getting married and look down upon those who follow their stri-dharma, or even worse to preach that this is “maya”!
By keeping herself attractive (externally) the wife protects her husband from being attracted to some other woman. It saves marriages.
Another reason is that we should look beautiful for preaching purposes, because when we preach in public, we represent our guru-parampara, and our ISKCON movement. We represent what we read in Srimad Bhagavatam. Because what’s the point of reading Srimad Bhagavatam if in daily life we look and talk something else? Then we don’t live Srimad Bhagavatam. We should try to adopt all aspects of our philosophy and culture into our daily life.
There is a small percentage of husbands who do not care about what their wife looks like and what she wears. One reason for that may be that he is esthetically challenged, or that he doesn’t like his wife, or he doesn’t know Vedic culture, and how a grihastha should behave. So it is not important to him what his wife looks like. This is not sannyas asrama.
When Kardama Muni and Devahuti just got married they lived austerely. But then he got her all opulences.
Inner beauty is as much important as is the external one. But we should be careful that we do no starve our husbands by neglecting our physical appearance.
Here is an excerpt from a conversation during Srila Prabhupada’s morning walk on April 10, 1974 on the importance of how women should dress.
Prabhupāda: By the dress a woman is recognized. When she does not dress very nicely, it is to be understood that her husband is out of home. When there is the vermillion, that means she is married. When the, what is called, division? Siti. Siti is in this side, then she is prostitute. The dress, when the woman dresses with white dress, they are widow, no husband. Yes, in this way by dress…
Indian man: Yes. You can recognize here. But now they are changed completely.
Prabhupāda: Yes. When the girl has no this covering, that means she is virgin. She is not married. In this way all the signs are there. This is prosita bhartrka. Prosita-bhartrka means one whose husband is not at home, outside. Then she will not dress, she will not take regular bath, so that people may know that her husband is not at home.
Śrīdhara: She won’t take bath?
Prabhupāda: Not, take bath not with any oil. Yes. Means she wanted to avoid very good looking. Yes, that is the idea.