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The Vision of Iris

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The Festival of Lights

The festival of lights, better known as Diwali or Deepavali is a celebration found in the Hindu culture that embodies light overcoming darkness. It was one of the most eagerly awaited celebrations on the Hindu calendar and is usually celebrated towards the end of October  or the beginning of November.

This celebration is full of happiness and love as it focuses on knowledge over ignorance and hope over despair. In India, it has been known to be one of the most beautiful nights of the year as houses are lit with lamps and the night to celebrated by lighting fireworks. South Africa is also big on Diwali and we celebrate it in a similar way.

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A satellite image of India on Diwali

On Diwali, we wear our best clothes, we prepare by spring cleaning and renovating just to get our homes and families ready for this day. Our houses are decorated with lights (a lot like Christmas lights) from a few days before to bring in this special day in style.

As a child, Diwali was my favorite day. We got to take a day off school, we got to buy new clothes, new shoes and sometimes my mom even took us to get our henna and hair done at the salon. For some Hindus, this day was also the day we take part in a family prayer to the Goddess Lakshmi who brings good health, wealth and prosperity.

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The Goddess Lakshmi

Relationships, family and friendships are extremely important during this time. So we exchange sweets (known as Mithai) to our loved ones. Sometimes these can be homemade Indian sweets, chocolates and biscuits. This is one of the most eagerly awaited parts of Diwali. We go from house to house, visiting all our relatives and giving them a beautifully wrapped parcel of sweets.  We spend most of this day eating! It is the best part which is why people like my sister spends about three days of excessive gyming as most of our Mithai is made with TONS of fattening ingredients that makes it so good.

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My mom’s perfect parcel of mithai. Individually handmade and designed. She calls this her Bon-Bon option where she makes the usual sweets such as burfee or ladoo all into little perfect bite sized balls. 

 

Unfortunately, I have spent Diwali away from my family as I was at University. But this has never stopped me from decorating my own home, lighting my own beautiful lights, overeating my sweets and having a delicious dinner!

My mother is one of the most talented and creative people I know. She has always made the best Mithai and many people just wait to receive my moms parcel so they can indulge. Her love of baking promoted her to start a little business where she specializes in making these sweets for functions and celebrations. Her business has boomed over the last few years and I am lucky to enough to have received a HUGE cooler bag filled with her designer sweets!

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My morning tray. We prepare a tray in the morning to add to our prayer as an offering to the God’s. My tray was colourful and had some of my mom’s but sweetmeats. After the prayer is complete.

 

Although I didn’t get to spend this day with my family, I still managed to stick to old traditions and make this day a beautiful one filled with love, light and tons of food!

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Some homes have the tradition of making a milkshake in the morning called Bombay Crush. It is made with cardamom syrup or rose syrup and some vanilla ice cream. This is my version, and to accompany it I had Poli. Poli is a sweet pastry shaped in a half moon and filled with coconut and nuts. It is then fried n oil and enjoyed! I also decided to make some coconut macaroons.
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This is a lamp or better known as Dhiya in hindi. This lamp is a special one because it is lit the night before Diwali and placed at your front or back door. 
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The weather in Grahamstown was pretty bad on Diwali. It was cold, windy and rainy. So based on what my mom has taught me, I used little brown bags filled with sand to leave my lamps in. These lamps are usually tea lights.

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Maybe next year you could light a lamp and exchange some homemade sweets with your loved ones!

This Way to ‘I do’- Whimsical Wedding

This Way to ‘I do’- Sangeet Sensations

This Way to ‘I do’- Mendhi Moments

This Way to ‘I do’- Capturing Moments

It has been about three months since This Way to ‘I do’ so I have decided to share some of the magnificent photographs from the weekend we will never forget! Kashmir and the rest of my family spent sleepless nights to make #vivwedskash an absolute success and everything a bride could ever dream of.

As mentioned in my posts during the series, the wedding week turned out to be such a blur for the immediate family because we were extremely busy. But luckily, we had a fantastic photographer who managed to capture all the right moments.

Stay tuned for galleries of each day!

Hand Me the Henna: Phase 3

Hand Me the Henna

We are at the end of the road with Hand Me the Henna, we hope this journey has been as a beautiful one for you- as it has for us.
If you missed the first two phases click here: Phase 1 Phase 2  

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Location: Bagwandeen Household

Mission: Mehndi Day (phase 3)
Time: 1:45pm

The Body- What is happening?

If this were a race, we are almost at the finish line and we are winning. We have taken the heat head on, and the first day which marks the beginning of the wedding week is about to come to an end. As the mehndi artist continues to apply ravishing designs on my sister’s body, she proceeds from the arms, to the feet, with extreme care and undiminished concentration. After the latest outburst that emerged from ‘the wedding jitters’, Kashmir is much calmer now while she is fed lunch by my little niece. Being a child, she is distracted by the magnificent art. So, with each helping of food that she feeds to my sister, she marvels with delight at my sister’s arms and feet.

I sit with them both as we discuss the forthcoming festivities; the exhilaration in our voices is noticeable. With each bite that Kashmir is fed, I stare at the spoon with the hope that in the midst of our merriment, the food will not fly off of it. I know my sister’s first instinct would be to clutch the spoon, or instantaneously stand up, but we can’t afford a mishap right now – we have come so far in seeing this mendhi ordeal through, and we are nearly at the end.

The artist is reaching my sister’s calves and Kashmir is starting to get slightly twitchy. I think to myself, “there’s just a few minutes more and we are done. I will no longer need to be a right hand lady, and my niece can finally take a mid-day nap.” Only in this moment did it occur to my sister that we are nowhere near the completion of this majestic process (which, in the blistering heat, isn’t feeling very grand.) There is still another five hours to go. The job of the mehndi artist is now completed, and now it is up to us (as the family) to take care of my sister’s exquisite hands and feet so that all of the work that was put into it would not be in vain.

Kashmir now moves herself out of the sun and into the dining room so that the rest of us can commence the preparations for the evening’s celebrations. It is not easy for a perfectionist like my sister to sit on the sidelines and watch everything being done  before her eyes ; to be entirely unable to contribute to what we’re doing. But she took everything in her stride and ceased this as an opportunity to take a break from the busy household.

Every few minutes, one of us breaks away from our preparation duties to moisten the inevitably drying henna on my sister. I am the first to start this process.

I am under a lot of pressure as I take a ball of cotton wool and dip it into the concoction that the artist left for us to use. This all begins to alarm my sister as she knows I can be a little careless at times. Thankfully, she was observing the artist when she performed this routine, and so she guided me through it with ease and elation to be helping in some way.

Everyone has had their turn to assist the bride-to-be as the day descends. Night begins to fall, and as the stars burn the dark sky, the copper coat becomes more rooted onto my sister’s body.  Old traditions believe that the darker the stain of your mehndi, the more love your mother-in-law will have for you. So, fingers are crossed for Kashmir.

Guests start to fill the house and the sound of music ignites the celebrations. In every corner of the house, there are groups of laughing girls tapping their feet to the music as they get their turn to have their palms adorned in mendhi. Kashmir greets all her guests and this is accompanied by warm hugs before everyone admires her beautiful hands. There is a light in her eyes that I’ve never seen before- this is the light of a bride-to-be. She is glowing.

It is now time for us to remove the mehndi and admire the dazzling tint that will be left behind. My eldest sister and I help Kashmir rub the mehndi off her body as she twitches and fusses as a result of being exhausted.

The morning after today will reveal the actual hue of the bridal mehndi. So, as she dances the night away with family and friends, the colour will seep through her skin, and leave the true mark of the extraordinary bride that she is.

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Time: 2:05pm

The Mind- The Backdrop of Henna as an Art

Henna artists, Dipti and Sayuiri Nathoo, are a dynamic mother and daughter duo situated in Durban. They explained that they have come across a multitude of brides who have requested that their henna designs be symbolic to elements of themselves, their families and even their first meeting with the groom. Despite the fact that patterns with such great sentimental value may be challenging to execute, henna artists respect their responsibility to master the trade, and are devoted to fulfilling the wishes of their clients to the best of their abilities.

In addition to hands, the bride-to-be gets her feet adorned with henna too. This is the completion of the henna process, once the feet are ready-in the Hindu tradition; the bride-to-be is then ready to conquer day two of the beautifying process. This is usually a prayer followed by the application of hurdee or haldi, this is a yellow paste made from turmeric and sandalwood. Both these rituals enhance the procedure of self-expression that the bride undertakes before her big day.

Although these sacraments are seen as a technique in which she can express herself and her inner beauty, it is entrenched in the roots of traditional India. At the time, the community didn’t have jewelry or foundation to add to their special day, so they created natural ways to replace these characteristics of bridal preparation that we commonly take for granted.

The history and the meaning behind the application of henna, including the traditional mehndi ceremonies, have rich significance in guiding us with understanding how these practices came into existence. As the traditions continue, the effect strengthens and this is reflected in the self-expression of those who indulge in it.

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Time: 2:30pm

The Spirit- How does it make me feel?

How do you come to conclude something that is so sacrosanct to beauty and expression? Something that has been in action for thousands of years and has had a substantial impact on the rituals traditional Indian brides immerse themselves into. The answer is, you cannot. I have always felt strongly about culture and tradition, and this being one that has such beauty attached to it- there will never be an adequate amount of words to explain the splendor behind an act that is sustained by tradition.

There are countless customs over numerous cultures that mirror the act of self-expression, some new and some old. It can be enlightening to expose your mind and discover the extensive spectrum of ‘techniques’ that have a list of purposes including self-expression.

I have found that, in many settings, beautifying can be seen as an egotistical act but, within these settings, there is still the implication of expressing yourself.

The mehndi ceremony will always be one I keep close to me, and the experience can be imprinted on your mind forever. As henna grows progressively popular in western societies, it becomes more recognisable as to why and how it can be used. Sometimes westernization of longstanding practices can contribute to the meaning being lost in translation and the practice could even be trivialized but I hope this has delivered a better understanding.

So next time you come across a henna artist, don’t forget to ask her to hand you the henna!

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Written by- Khinali Bagwandeen

Photographs by- Khinali Bagwandeen

Hand Me the Henna: Phase 1

Hand Me the Henna

 

The henna process that a traditional Hindu bride undergoes before her big day is one with great significance and beauty attached to it. Hand Me the Henna will explore the journey in three parts (phases) Each part will give you a sense of the body (what is happening at the exact moment), the mind (the history behind henna) and the spirit (how it makes me as the writer feel.)

 

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Location: Bagwandeen Household

Mission: Mehndi Day
Time: 08:25am

The Body: What is happening?

I disconnect my gaze and instantaneously squint as I adjust to the warm sunshine. The mellifluous sound of the tabla and sitar fills the home as my sister adorns herself in her majestic Indian attire. I glance at my sister and notice a look of anticipation: it seems to have hit her swiftly, almost like a wave, that today (which already feels like a lifetime) is the day that encompasses everything that she has ever envisioned for herself. Today marks the day that it will all finally come to life.

My family gathers in the garden and we embark on the first leg of the wedding festivities: the mehndi (henna) ceremony. As we await the arrival of the mehndi artist, the bride-to-be has her last meal of the day (other than this, my mom has permitted some snacking if the bride-to-be insists). Being a small eater, this ‘meal’ happens to be a tiny bowl of  chocolate ProNutro. This is the last time that she will use her hands without assistance, until the sun exits stage to let the stars dance around a blushing moon.

Consumed by vigour and exhilaration, she makes herself comfortable; sitting under a pagoda draped with fragrant, bright marigolds that were grown on my uncle’s farm especially for this purpose.  Once the artist arrives, the process of the particularly intricate art commences. Her steady hand begins dressing my sister’s skin with transiently elusive patterns and the bride-to-be is now no longer allowed to use her hands. The henna remains wet for at least two hours, although every time it dries completely the artist will moisten it again using a ‘trade secret concoction’, resulting in the risk of ‘smudging’. Consequently, minimum movement is essential. So I sit myself right next to my sister (in attempt to distract her from potentially messing some mehndi) and we begin to chat about whether the groom’s festivities tonight will be better than ours – as sisters do.

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Time: 09:15am

The Mind: The Backdrop of Henna as an Art

The art of henna application has been practiced for over five thousand years in countries of Indian and African cultures. The English name (henna) comes from the Arabic “innā” but is now more commonly known as Mehndhi (men-dee) in Eastern cultures.

Henna paste is prepared from the henna plant; botanically referred to as Lawsonia inermis. Its practical use became increasingly common when the Egyptians discovered that it had, ideal cooling properties which could counter the high temperatures of the desert. After realising that henna leaves a distinguishable tint on the body, its popularity grew when it was used in mainstream culture for decorative purposes on the body; often in the form of temporary tattoos and hair and fabric dye.

Where make-up can evoke a form of self-expression, similarly henna embodies the aspects of projecting an identity through the ‘enhancement’ of beauty. Henna continued to grow, aesthetically, in India and Pakistan as a decorative form in light of special and auspicious occasions. These included birthdays, pregnancy and marriage – marriage the most prominent celebration that calls for the application of henna.

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Time: 10:30am

The Spirit: How does it make me feel?

There was a feeling of twilight in the air for me. It might have been a bright, sunny day for everyone else, but to me, this was more like a magical dream and I was lost in another world. I found myself sitting there reflecting, as I observed my sister’s hands become immersed in the dark brown, moist henna.

Mehndi has constantly been a titillating subject for me. From a young age, I would attend family weddings and fervently anticipate the mehndi ceremony so I could join in on the festivities and beautify my palms with the elegant copper-tinted stain. I waited increasingly eagerly to celebrate this day with someone as close to me as my sister. Henna plays a vital role in the progression of the bride’s preparation leading up to her wedding day. This has had an incessantly had a poignant effect on me.

The way in which a woman can use something natural and extravagant at the same time to express her internal beauty externally has remained perpetually close to me. Internal beauty tends to be something that many women see as personal. Internal beauty, I believe, can only be seen by a few people – not everyone sees me internalize myself and my beauty. It is almost like offering your raw soul to just anyone. It is also quite challenging to find ways in which we can actually externalize inner beauty, which is why I feel henna is a precious practice because it follows tradition. Women sometimes choose patterns to be decorated on their hands that were seen on their grandmother’s hands during her wedding celebrations. It is factors such as tradition and the way in which we give significance to this tradition that can be a definition of internal beauty in my eyes

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Stay tuned for phase two, where things get a little messy and a bit more intense!

Written by- Khinali Bagwandeen

Photographs by- Khinali Bagwandeen

This Way To ‘I Do’- Let’s Get Jiggy With It (Part 4)

 

The wedding weekend has just flashed passed us. It feels like it hasn’t even happened yet. When you are actively involved in such a mountainous event, there is such a long list of things to be done that actually immersing yourself in the function becomes impossible. Nevertheless, we had an unforgettable time marking the marriage of Vivek and Kashmir.

The Vision of Iris was slightly absent through it all, but I tried to keep you all updated as much as possible in the middle of pick ups, hair, make up, setting up and so much more.

My mother and I had innumerable arguments about me sitting on my laptop in the middle of the day while there was work to be done, so yes- I tried! But now that the rush is all over, I have gathered and accumulated so much to share with you all, from parents to pups- I have it all!

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The newly weds are off to their honeymoon and according to Vivek, this is where his work begins!

The Sangeet (our night of dance) was so exquisite and ravishing, everyone had a blast. The theme was a Royal Rajasthani Affair.

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The set up was enchanting and the moment we walked in, it felt like we were teleported to the middle of Rajasthan. This is exactly what Kashmir wanted for her guests. All we really wanted was a fun night that brought everyone together- that is exactly what we had.

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The dances went off smoothly, and everyone, young and old took part in the festivities.

The background– Dancing has always been such a dominant factor in our family. Both my sisters are qualified Kathak dancers (a North Indian classical dance form) Kajal and Kashmir have both been dancing from age 9 and 6, and since then, dance has been what makes us who we are.

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Every time you see a dancer dance, you see them in the best version of themselves. Albert Einstein once said, “We dance for laughter, we dance for tears, we dance for madness, we dance for fears, we dance for hopes, we dance for screams- we are the dancers; we create the dreams.” This embodies the life of a dancer, and the passion a dancer holds within. Kashmir wanted nothing more than to celebrate her marriage with her passion.

Our family commends my parents for pushing their daughters in the direction of dance, and from a very young age, every family function has adopted a dance aspect to light up the evening and ignite the celebrations.

The production- Kajal, my eldest sister could be defined (in the conventional sense) as Kashmir’s maid of honor. So it was her duty to rally up the troops and construct a group of dancers from our enthusiastic and talented family. In the space of three weeks, she had convinced a group of doctors, businessmen, busy students, and the young to help us put on a show for the rest of our family.

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Rehearsals were full of laughter and fun (well, according to my family. I wasn’t there 😦 ) Even after a few beers on a chilled Sunday afternoon, they still got jiggy with it and had a blast!

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Kajal had no doubt that it would be a victory for us. And it was! Together with our dancer friends, they managed to put together a performance that could’ve almost been a professional show.

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The result was exactly what we intended for, it brought everyone together, even after the dances, the spirit lingered and filled the room with a fire that burned inside of everyone to party on!

The power dance had on our family left us speechless, the fun we had at the Sangeet still lingered on the lips of everyone even days after!

P.S- To add to the beautiful theme, we had a prop filled photo booth with Rajasthani props.

These are some of the fun pictures!

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