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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!

Blank…

Have you ever read something that leaves you with feelings but takes away your words?

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I don’t usually do this but…

As we all know, I am currently surviving on just my phone to deal with all my admin. So the actual content of The Vision of Iris has been down.  This blog is my personal project but it also falls within the academic chapter of my life. With that said, we have been advised against using our blogs as a “diary entry” or a place to project emotions.  (Getting a sense that I’m about to do exactly that?)

Well I have been thinking about something lately and I’ve been jotting these thoughts down in my “before bed” book, but tonight I felt like that just wasn’t enough.  And I really want to share this with my followers and occasional lurkers (Yes, I see you. Hit the follow button.) 

I need to first add a disclaimer here to say that what you are about to read is not what I am feeling. But rather it’s a thought that I’ve come across which seemed to make a lot of sense to me when I look back at emotions I’ve felt in the past.  On the contrary, I’m actually in a very emotionally neutral point in my life so the relevance to this isn’t very current in my own context.  So…

Have you ever felt so content loving someone from a distance that not receiving their love in return is okay? Almost as if you love them enough for the both of you and you have no desire to force it upon them or even look for anyone else to fill that void? I think this explains some confusing paths I’ve been through in the last two years. But it suddenly dawned upon me and really made sense in my head.

Just knowing that what you feel is real makes it all okay.  I’m not saying you don’t yearn to be with person, who wouldn’t yearn for the one they love? But you are satisfied and have accepted that life doesn’t always go as planned. I think if anyone has felt or is currently feeling this, it’s a great thing.  To know that your love for someone is so powerful that you don’t NEED that love in return is comforting.  Or I might be crazy.

Someone once told me that the universe works in mysterious ways and I’m slowly starting to see that. The universe will always conspire to give us what we want, maybe not exactly when we want it, but when we are ready for it.

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Basically me.

 

Right in the feels

This is my first ‘non book’ that I’ve posted here.  But I came across this post and it really hit me in the feels.  I know many girls have been feeling this way too because it’s one of those posts that have been reposted again and again on Facebook. Whatever the writer is speaking about is relatable to many other females but it really sent me on a roller-coaster of emotions…

It’s titled “To the guy who I thought I would grow old with” *runs away and sobs in a corner* It’s a simple but slightly tormenting piece.

Here’s a tiny bit-

"I wiped your tears as you spoke about your family, there’s nothing in this world I loved more than holding your hand and whispering words of reassurance in your ear, because I knew you weren’t broken, you were just bent. And I loved all your edges, all your roughness. Your imperfections were perfect to me"
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Pretty much.

And here’s the link if anyone else wants to cry themselves to sleep.

This Way to ‘I do’- Whimsical Wedding

This Way to ‘I do’- Sangeet Sensations

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 2

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

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Location: Bagwandeen Household

Mission: Mehndi Day (phase 2) 

Time: 11:00am

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.

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Time: 12:00pm

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.

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Time: 12:35pm

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.

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Written by- Khinali Bagwandeen

Photographs by- Khinali Bagwandeen

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