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The Vision of Iris

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mendhi

This Way to ‘I do’- Whimsical Wedding

This Way to ‘I do’- Sangeet Sensations

This Way to ‘I do’- Mendhi Moments

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

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’- So Much To Say, So Little Time (Part 3)

I am typing this at 1:24am, 3/20/2016. My feet are aching and I just need some sleep…

 

We just finished off at our first major function. The Sangeet. Thanks to my niece and nephew who were our mc’s for the night, I learnt that Sangeet means dance, concert and singing together. It originates from the Sankrit word Sangeetha.

This was a night full of colour and dance, but to be honest- Kashmir and I have just been discussing what a blur it all is to us! The night went by so fast, and six hours felt more like two. But, we all know the feeling when time flies by whilst having fun, maybe this was just it.

This night was magical beyond words. Our rehearsals paid off, and learning my dances via video while in Grahamstown wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

There will defiantly be more about this night up soon, but for now- we are focusing on something a little more current.

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The Saturday morning was the Hurdee (or Haldi). A Hurdee in Hindu traditions takes place the day before the wedding. During this, the bride is smothered with a ‘hurdee’ paste, which consists of turmeric, rose water, and in our case, sandalwood.

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The purpose of this is to clean the bride to be. It is believed to have the power to cleanse the soul, and mind- before the bride is ready to reach married life. Some might say it is just to give the bride a lovely glow, but there is a deeper meaning behind it.

In older traditional weddings, the Hurdee would serve as a sort of protection, so once the bride to be has been covered in it- she cannot leave the house. But now with changing times, circumstances have advanced and much like Kashmir, some brides choose to have a function afterwards (which means they most probably will leave the house to go to the function venue!)

Kashmir decided that instead of making an entire function out of this, she would perform the prayers and the Hurdee ceremony at home, the day before her wedding. And in the evening, we will celebrate by sharing a night of dance with the ones we love, as we have.

It is such a lovely process, and the day after- the bride ACTUALLY has a beautiful glow! In most families, the process starts with a little prayer and then ladies go up in groups  of five or seven and massage this paste onto the bride and complete a series of prayers during and after. It is a fun and interesting pre-wedding ritual which I will definitely touch on further after the wedding rush.

By the time I post this, the wedding would’ve already passed, which would explain the slight lack of intensity in this post. But, once things have settled I will be deconstructing the wedding weekend and all the shared elements before and after.

I have about three hours of sleep before the BIG DAY! Ciao.

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