Mehendi and the Feminine Mystique in India

Marriage Bangles & Mehendi

Marriage Bangles with Mehendi Patterns

I am not the only one who finds the ornate patterns painted on Indian women’s hands with a paste of mehendi (also known as henna)  alluring, as it is one of the many important features of the bridal attire and accompanying rituals. The bride’s mehendi patterns are the most intricate, elaborate and expensive. It is not unheard of for the mehendi artist to deftly paint in the groom’s name, hidden amongst all the swirls and arabesques. On their wedding night, the groom is now allowed to see his new wife’s painted limbs and attempts to find his camouflaged name, a very romantic tradition.

I clicked the above photograph during the “marriage season,” whose dates are determined according to astrology. Nearly all newly wedded Hindu brides wear a set of matched red and white bangle bracelets known as choora or choori, which is the plural form. She wears them for forty days. Traditionally, they are gifted to her from her mother’s brother. After the forty days end, so does the honeymoon. I read that this tradition began in the Punjab but has spread throughout most of India. The design of the choori has distinct regional differences but the red and white ones are the most popular.

Women all over Indian enjoy preparing for a special occasion by getting their hands decorated with mehendi, myself included. I admit, though, I don’t need a special occasion to have it done. I especially like to have my hands hennaed  when I am about to leave India. It lasts for about a week and helps me to say farewell. I look down at my hands when I am back in the west with fondness. Though I am sad, there is this visible reminder of my connection to India even though it is fading, it gives me pleasure and is a reassurance that it was real, that I really was there and that I will return.

Mehendi in Process

Mehendi Painting Drying

While seated on a low stool where many mehendiwallas offer their skills in Delhi, waiting for my hands to dry, a foreigner stopped to watch with fascination. After a few minutes he asked if he could take a photograph of my hands. I agreed. Afterwards, he asked if I had a camera and if I wanted him to take a photograph with my camera. He was pleasant and had an honest face or I wouldn’t have allowed him to open my bag and take out my camera and take this photo of me! My hands were damp with the mehendi paste and the drying process is essential to its success. Without drying properly, you could end up with a big smudged mess.

The art of mehendi has been part of the cultures of India, Pakistan, Africa and the Middle  East for more than 5,000 years. It is known to have cooling properties too. In the desert districts of Rajasthan, especially during the summer, the locals apply mehendi  to their palms and feet and even to the scalp, without any pattern just to help maintain a slightly lower body temperature and to keep them cool.

Bride at the Beauty Salon

Bride at the Beauty Salon

I love going to Indian beauty salons, partly because they are much more affordable than in the west but also because of all the unusual treatments that are on offer. While waiting for my pedicure and threading in the salon that I photographed above, I couldn’t help but notice the exquisite and finely detailed mehendi patterns on this bride- to- be’s arms. She traveled to Bombay solely for this purpose. Here, back in Rajasthan, she is having her hair styled. Unfortunately, my battery ran out, my spare was back in the room and this was the only shot I got!

The Indian treatment of all things feminine is so beautiful that next year I am going to incorporate them into one of my tours. Who knows, you might just want to discover, ” The Feminine Mystique in India” with me.


About ninagrandiose

I am based in NYC but travel regularly to India and Mexico. Both of these countries feel like home. In India I scour the country in search of fabulous textiles to incorporate into my clothing designs. I sit back and let the ambiance and wonder of India seep into my consciousness so I can be inspired to write about what India is for me. I bring a limited number of people to India on exclusive and intimate tours of my favorite hangouts. In Mexico I take in the natural beauty that surrounds me and dance the night away. I constantly give thanks for all this and am pleased to share it all with you.
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4 Responses to Mehendi and the Feminine Mystique in India

  1. Once again you have brought our the essence of Indian culture beautifully 😉

    • ninagrandiose says:

      Thanks, Jessica. For me, India keeps on inspiring, intriguing and teaching. Honoring her with my blog is the least I can do!

  2. I agree with Jessica. The way you show us Indian culture is so beautifully and respectfully done. I love this series of mehendi.

    • ninagrandiose says:

      It is important to me to show India in a positive light as unfortunately, India is often misunderstood and unappreciated, particularly in the West. India has such a rich and fascinating culture, I can’t imagine running out of ideas related to India to photograph and to blog about. Thanks, Otto.

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