Hand Me the Henna
Hand Me the Henna continues to explore the process of the henna application which a Hindu bride undergoes. If you missed phase 1, click here
Location: Bagwandeen Household
Mission: Mehndi Day (phase 2)
The Body- What is happening?
As minimal movement becomes more persistent, my sister is beginning to get somewhat restless. The oppressive heat covers us like a heavy blanket and as I turn away to get myself something to quench my thirst, I hear the bride-to-be beckon me by name. I turn around to respond to her call and think to myself, It’s too hot for this, what could she want now?” Expecting a request like brushing her hair back, or maybe even feeding her a sip of water, I find myself facing a more familiar appeal.
My sister communicates to me without words, and instead uses the glare of her eyes to signal me to her side – This was similar in the way in which she would initiate an encounter in which we would meet to gossip (as sisters do.) I walk towards her and position myself so that my ear is close enough to hear her whisper, “Khinali, I need to call Vivek (the fiancé) because he has forgotten to bring the tables for tonight!” I giggle at the distress in her voice.
The bride-to-be is in the middle of what is supposed to be a charmed and captivating activity, but her concern is focused on something as trivial as tables. Maybe this was her defense mechanism in coping with ‘wedding jitters’. I tell her to relax, and that it is not an issue because he will bring them (I mean, he’s a pretty responsible guy) but she insists that she needs to make a call to him. I try hard to contain my laughter as she points at her phone and tells me to dial his number. I dial Vivek and place the phone to her ear awkwardly because getting too close would mean risking a stain on my outfit. As he answers, my sister starts harping on about everythingbut the tables.
I think to myself, “definitely wedding jitters.” and try to imagine what must be going through his head as she speaks in low, aggressive whispers into the receiver. Naturally, I position myself close to my hand holding the phone, to try to listen to his response while, at the same time, gently reminding my sister (who instinctively wants to grab her phone and crush the life out of it while carrying out her verbal assault) that her hands are still covered in mehndi. She cautiously places her hands at her sides, so as not to wreck the delicate designs or her outfit.
She (now reminding Vivek about the table) is inspecting the marvel; that is the masterpiece that was created on her skin. I wonder what she is thinking as she simultaneously waves her beautifully dressed hand in my face; as if to tell me to ‘shoo’. She does this in the same manner in which you would, with a fly, that’s hovering in your personal space – I think she wants me to cut the call.
The Mind- The Backdrop of Henna as an Art
A traditional Eastern wedding ceremony often consists of a series of (preparation) events leading up to the official (wedding day) affair; where one of the customary events is a “mehndi ceremony”. During this ceremony, the bride-to-be is adorned with decorative henna patterns which are applied by a practicing mehndi artist.
The application period is usually 3-4 hours depending on the intensity of the design. Although in earlier times when artist were not so acquainted with art of henna designs, they used toothpicks to apply the henna, hence it could take up twenty hours to complete bridal designs.
The expression is transferred through the elaborate designs the bride-to-be chooses to have applied on herself. The henna artist is equivalent to a conventional artist that expresses her/himself through their paintbrush, musical instrument or tattoo gun. It takes extreme concentration and a steady hand to have the capacity to draw intricate designs.
Once the application on the limbs and extremities (hands and feet) have been completed, the bride is not allowed to use her hands and minimal movement is essential. This is due to the fact that the henna remains wet for a period of time so there’s is a risk of “smudging”. It is crucial that it is left untouched to dry and once it does, the artist will continue to add moisture so that it better adheres to the skin.
Some elders who are well versed in the tradition speculate that the bride should not partake in any strenuous activities during her wedding week, and this could possibly be why.
The Spirit- How does it make me feel?
The self-expression channeled and projected through the henna ceremony that many traditional Hindu brides part-take in is often a procedure that is unexplained to the brides but is performed based on accepted traditions, much like the application of other more common beautifying phases such as make-up.
I feel that there are instances where one’s self expression peaks during an unconscious state of awareness. During the ceremonious in my home, I personally was swathed in the many conversations, laughter and playful moments we shared together as a family that I didn’t realise the intricacy of the situation, and I abandoned the magnificence of it.
It is much like this, in which certain forms of self-expression go unnoticed, but they are still in existence, whether they stand alone or in the multitude of our conscious mind. After processing the hours that passed by during the mehndi application, I reflect back and think about the moments in which my sister’s face lit up after beholding the beautiful patterns on her body- it is this enchanted feeling of what looks like euphoria to me, that I wholeheartedly believe is the absolute and paramount reward of self-expression; this gradually existing as the feeling that is a deduction of an inconspicuous sensation that shields us.
Written by- Khinali Bagwandeen
Photographs by- Khinali Bagwandeen