India; it is a culture of beauty in food, languages, diversity and civilization. Although I’ve never explored India, I’ve always been fascinated by its mystical, mesmerizing culture. Perhaps it’s because of my heritage. Yes, I’ve got Indian blood in my veins!
An intricate henna design. click to view source
As done in a previous column, I’d like to present an item of Indian traditional clothing, the Saree, and the body art created by Henna.
Though western fashion can be seen in cities like New Delhi, the capital of India, many still wear saree as everyday clothes. In fact it’s been worn for the past thousand years ever since Indus Vally Civilization.
The saree, sometimes spelled sari, is also popular in Southern Asian countries like Nepal, Bangladesh and Malaysia. The word sari comes from Sanskrit meaning ‘strip of cloth.’ The length ranges from four to nine meters, and is draped over the body in different styles, leaving the midriff bare. It’s worn over a two undergarment — a petticoat (called a “lehenga” in parts of India) is the bottom portion, and a short, tight-fitting blouse (called a “choli”) is the upper portion.
Sarees are as diverse as is the Indian culture, created in a countless number of designs. Each region has its own style, but the one most common is wrapped around waist with one end draped over the shoulder. While the majority of women wear sarees made of cotton, wealthy women wear sarees of silk. Younger women choose sarees of bright colors. Some are made in a single color and decorated with beads, while others have two or three colors and a beautiful motif. Other fabrics choices are satin and chiffon Saree.
Another attractive tradition is Mehndi or henna body art. Henna been used to dye hair, skin, fingernails, and fabric, among other things. Henna lasts about one to four weeks, so it’s like a temporary tattoo.
In ancient Egypt, the fingers and toes of the pharoahs were stained with henna prior to mummification. In Indian culture, however, henna is used commonly used in body art for wedding ceremonies.
When I tried henna, the paste smelled like a medicinal herb, and somehow it soothed me. And it didn’t hurt like a permanent tattoo! I used henna that came in a small tube. If you want to try henna, here are some tips.
Draw whatever design your heart desires on the hands or feet. (In fact, you can print Henna on any part of the body. I personally like drawing floral designs, but use your own creativity!
After the henna is applied, wait for about 15 to 20 minutes.
Scrape the paste off when it gets dried out completely.
Wash your hands with soap. However, do not wash the design area, because the earlier you wash the design area, the lighter henna appears to be.
Though there is a minor controversy, I have to warn you about black henna. According to Health Canada, PPD (paraphenylenediamine) which is added to black henna may cause skin damage. Red henna is considered safer, so I recommend using it instead.
Rich in culture and heritage, India enchants the eyes and the minds of many. In that respect, I introduced only a glimpse of its legacy. I’m certain India will keep captivating the hearts of others as it captivates mine.