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The Henna Design/Mehndi

Mehandi is the application of henna as a temporary form of skin decoration in India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and the Maldives as well as by expatriatecommunities from those countries. The word mehndi is derived from the Sanskrit word mendhikā. The use of mehndi and turmeric is described in the earliest Hinduism's Vedic ritual books. Haldi (staining oneself with turmeric paste) as well as mehndi are Vedic customs, intended to be a symbolic representation of the outer and the inner sun. Vedic customs are centered around the idea of "awakening the inner light".Traditional Indian designs are of representations of the sun on the palm, which, in this context, is intended to represent the hands and feet.Mehndi decorations became fashionable in the West in the late 1990s, where they are sometimes called henna tattoos. Henna is typically applied during special occasions like weddings and Muslim festivals such as Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Adha as well as in Hindu festivals like Karva Chauth, Diwali, Bhaidooj and Teej. In someHindu festivals, many women have Henna applied to their hands and feet. It is usually drawn on the palms and feet, where the design will be clearest because the skin on these surfaces naturally contains less of the pigment melanin. Henna was originally used as a form of decoration mainly for brides.In the modern age, usually people buy ready=made Henna cones, which are ready to use and make painting easy. However, in rural areas in India, women grind fresh henna leaves on grinding stones with added oil, which though not as refined as professionally prepared henna cones, brings much darker colors.The term henna tattoo is figurative, because true tattoos are permanent surgical insertions of pigments underneath the skin, as opposed to pigments resting on the surface as is the case with mehndi.Likely due to the desire for a "tattoo-black" appearance, many people have started adding the synthetic dye p-Phenylenediamine (PPD) to henna to give it a black colour. PPD is extremely harmful to the skin and can cause severe allergic reactions resulting in permanent injury or death. Alata (Mahur) is a flower-based dye used to paint the feet of the brides in some regions of India. It is still used in Bengal.

Karva Chauth

Karva Chauth (Hindi: करवा चौथ, Punjabi: ਕਰਵਾ ਚੌਥ) is an annual one-day festival celebrated by Hindu and some Sikh women in North India, the Indian state ofGujarat and parts of Pakistan in which married women fast from sunrise to moonrise for the safety and longevity of their husbands. The fast is observed in the states of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Haryana, Indian Punjab, Rajasthan, Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh andGujarat. The festival falls on the fourth day after the full moon, in the Hindu lunisolar calendar month of Kartik. Sometimes, unmarried women observe the fast for their fiances or desired husbands.

The Rituals

Women begin preparing for Karva Chauth a few days in advance, by buying cosmetics (shringar), traditional adornments or jewelry, and puja items, such as the karwa lamps, matthi, henna and the decorated puja thali (plate). Local bazaars take on a festive look as shopkeepers put their Karva Chauth related products on display. On the day of the fast, women from Punjab awake to eat and drink just before sunrise. In Uttar Pradesh, women eat soot feni with milk in sugar on the eve of the festival. It is said that this helps them go without water the next day. In Punjab, sargi (ਸਰਗੀ) is an important part of this pre-dawn meal, and always includes fenia. It is traditional for the sargi to be sent or given to the woman by her mother-in-law. If the mother-in-law lives with the woman, the pre-dawn meal is prepared by the mother-in-law. The fast begins with dawn. Fasting women do not eat during the day, and some additionally do not drink any water either. In traditional observances of the fast, the fasting woman does no housework. Women apply henna and other cosmetics to themselves and each other. The day passes in meeting friends and relatives. In some regions, it is customary to gift and exchange painted clay pots filled with put bangles, ribbons, home-made candy, cosmetics and small cloth items (e.g. handkerchiefs). Since Karva Chauth follows soon after the Kharif crop harvest in the rural areas, it is a good time for community festivities and gift exchanges. Parents often send gifts to their married daughters and their children.In the evening, a community women-only ceremony is held. Women dress in fine clothing and wear jewellery and henna, and (in some regions) dress in the complete finery of their wedding dresses. The dresses (saris or shalwars) are frequently red, gold or orange in color, which are considered auspicious colors. In Uttar Pradesh, women wear Saris or lehangas. Women sit in a circle with their puja thalis. Depending on region and community, a version of the story of Karva Chauth is narrated, with regular pauses. The storyteller is usually an older woman or a priest, if one is present. In the pauses, the Karva Chauth puja song is sung collectively by the women as they perform the feris (passing their thalis around in the circle). In Punjabi communities, the Karva Chauth song is sung seven times, the first six of which describe some of the activities that are taboo during the fast and the seventh describes the lifting of those restrictions with the conclusion of the fast. The forbidden activities include weaving cloth (kumbh chrakhra feri naa), pleading with or attempting to please anyone (ruthda maniyen naa), and awakening anyone who is asleep (suthra jagayeen naa). For the first six feris they sing -“...Veero kudiye karvara, Sarv suhagan karvara, Aye katti naya teri naa, Kumbh chrakhra feri naa, Aar pair payeen naa, Ruthda maniyen naa, Suthra jagayeen naa, Ve veero kuriye karvara, Ve sarv suhagan karvara...”For the seventh feri, they sing -“...Veero kudiye karvara, Sarv suhagan karvara, Aye katti naya teri nee, Kumbh chrakhra feri bhee, Aar pair payeen bhee, Ruthda maniyen bhee, Suthra jagayeen bhee, Ve veero kuriye karvara, Ve sarv suhagan karvara...”In Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, the women exchange karvas seven times between themselves. In Rajasthan, before offering water seven times the fasting woman is asked "Dhai?", to which she responds, "Suhaag na Dhai". An alternative ritual conducted by Uttar Pradeshi women is prayer of "gaur mata" the earth. Specifically, women will take a bit of soil, sprinkle water, and then place kumkum on it, treating it as an idol/manifestation of the fertile Mother Earth. In Rajasthan, stories are told by older women in the family, including narratives of Karva Chauth, Shiv, Parvati and Ganesh. In earlier times, an idol of Gaur Mata was made using earth and cow dung, which has now been replaced with an idol of Parvati. Each fasting woman lights an earthen lamp in her thali while listening to the Karva story. Sindoor, incense sticks and rice are also kept in the thali.In Uttar Pradesh, a priest or an elderly woman of the family narrates the story of beejabeti or Veervati. Women make Gauri, Ganesh and Shankar idols with mud and decorate them with colourful and bright clothes and jewellery. While exhanging Karvas seven times, they sing -“...Sadaa suhagan karve lo, Pati ki pyari karve lo, Saat bhaiyon ke behen karve lo, Vart karni karve lo, Saas ki pyaari karve lo...”Thereafter, the women offer baayna (a melange of goodies like halwa, puri, namkeen mathri, meethi mathri, etc.) to the idols (mansana) and hand over to their mother-in-law or sister-in-law.The fera ceremony concluded, the women await the rising of the moon. Once the moon is visible, depending on the region and community, it is customary for a fasting woman, with her husband nearby, to view its reflection in a vessel filled with water, through a sieve, or through the cloth of a dupatta. Water is offered (arka) to the moon (som or chandra, the lunar deity) to secure its blessings. She then turns to her husband and views his face indirectly in the same manner. In some regions, the woman says a brief prayer asking for her husband's life. It is believed that at this stage, spiritually strengthened by her fast, the fasting woman can successfully confront and defeat death (personified by Yama). In Rajasthan the women say "Like the gold necklace and the pearl bracelet, just like the moon may my suhaag always shine brightly".The husband now takes the water from the thali and gives his wife her first sip and feeds her with the first morsel of the day (usually something sweet). The fast is now broken, and the woman has a complete meal. It is customary for the husband to make a gift to his wife, such as jewelry or a new dress.

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