Monday, 14 November 2011


Mendhi application is a tradition inherited from the Indian subcontinent, encouraged by Islam as a Sunnah, and a big part of pre Eid, Diwali and wedding festivities in many Indian homes!  Gone are the days when nani ma use to grind freshly broken henna leaves in her stone kundi, seep it in tea and mix it into a paste. To the pungent green 'chutney' looking concoction she would add colour enhancing oils and keep it over night.  It is from fond memories that I recall the fun that soon followed! The young girls would gather around the aunts to get a share of the thick paste slapped and smeared onto their hands. The offending hands where the sorce of much teasing from the boy cousins who usualy wrinkled their noses in disgust! Undoubtedly put of by the strong rich scent!

Once all the little hands where carefully wrapped into brown paper bags, the excited girls trooped of to bed, each praying that the colour will 'catch' and dreaming that their hands would be the darkest, tomorrow.  After cleaning up the mess the ladies would then use fingers, match sticks and toothpicks to cover their finger and toe nails with the remaining mendhi, once tightly 'celotaped', they too, will retire for the night.

The older ones amongst them, inevitably, complaining about the 'cold' and 'pulling' pains the mendhi will cause!  That would have just left the last brave kala, who would scrap the rest of the mendhi from the bowl to streak her hair while giggling to herself about how shocked everybody would be when they see her flaming red hair the next day!(These where the days before salon highlights, after all) 

The next morning would be a rush of activity and excitment, as the young girls peeled of their protective bags and washed of the hardened mendhi! Crinkled and cramped hands were compared and those with the 'blackest spots' proudly claimed victory! Vicks and oils would then be massaged in by nani ma as she admired each hand and overheard the ladies complain about the cold pulling pain their mendhi had caused, knowing full well that many would want a second coat for their nails that night again! Then kala would make her grand appearance to show of her 'redder' hair to the chuckles and teasings of everyone!   

Today, mendhi  has come a long way from the full smeared palms of the past. Mendhi application has since evolved into an art, and mendi designs have gained popularity in recent years!  Fast becoming a global trend, traditional fresh mendi has given way to the ready mixed, store bought, cone variety which guarantees  even colour. While each mendhi artist is reputed to apply designs with his or her own flair, many carry a distinct signiture,true to time and place.   From the floral patterns of arabia to the glove like intricacy of indian designs. From the quick and thick variety of pakistan to the morden trends of splash, twirls and tattoos.

Mendhi has also become a South African familiarity crossing ethnic lines!   While many countries and nations fight for the claim to the orgin of mendhi, South Africans can proudly claim to have taken this ancient tradition to new heights. Mendhi is part of our cultural melting pot! The emerging South African  variety is trendy, morden and pleasing to the eye.   From the street markets to Eid fairs, eastern conventions and bridal mendhi specialist... mendhi is admired and appreciated across South Africa and carries a beautiful sense of heritage and tradition in the palm of the hand

by   Rehana Rawat
© RY Rawat (2010)  
The author asserts his/her moral rights to be identified as the author of this work. No part of this work may be published, copied or reused without the permission of the author.

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