Friday, June 17, 2011

Mehandi: art, tradition and service

By Rosana Araújo*

     When I visited Vrndavana (India) in February 2005, the only intention I had was to worship Krishna in that holy place. As an artist I was thinking of how to use my skills in service to Krishna. It was by chance that walking through those dusty streets toward Loi Bazaar I saw a placard offering a range of services. It seemed that those people knew how to get by! One of these services was the classes of the art of mehandi.

   For those who don’t know, mehandi, or mehndi (or even mehendi) is the name of the traditional art of applying natural henna in India. I thought that by learning this art I would be able to add the India art elements  to my artwork, but I also saw there a great opportunity to be useful in festivals organized by the devotees - and I always wanted to be in all of them), and this service would be a nice excuse to meet that goal!

         My course lasted only one month, but I practiced every day, day and night. I was completely enamoured with this art, and because of my dear teacher, resident of the holy dhama, I could understand the symbolism present in the mehandi designs under the light of Radha and Krishna’s pastimes.

      From then on I still had to research, study and practice enough to be able to meet the demands of my own craving! I discovered in my research that not only the symbols were directly or indirectly connected with the pastimes of Radha and Krishna, but also that the very tradition of applying the mehandi was always performed in the mood of service and giving of love and affection.

         It is said that the use of henna began among girls from the interior of Rajasthan and Gujarat. In the fields, they accidentally soiled their hands with the plant that originates the paste, and noticed that while their hands were still stained, it lowered the body temperature. Knowing the refreshing property of henna, it began to be very useful during the hot days of Indian summer. It didn’t take long before they begin to create drawings and decorating each other with the red paste (this color has always been a symbol of Shakti, or energy and good luck).
          Everyone knows the tradition of applying henna on the hands and feet of Indian brides. Well, this is the origin of the bachelorette party and the bridal shower! The days of applying henna wedding is a very special day, and is part of a day of the Hindu wedding’s party week. Today it all became a symbol of social status, but traditionally this day has several deep meanings in the woman's life:

- The henna is one of the first gifts that the groom offers to the bride.

- It's a day she says goodbye to his single life with her friends and relatives.

- It is an occasion where she hears advice on married life and how to please your future husband (so it is believed that the bigger is the henna design , the better wife a bride will be, because elaborate designs take time to be completed).

- It is considered a rite of passage, a party which reduces the psychological stress of the social status change.

- It is an opportunity for friends and family show their love for the bride, assisting her in beauty rituals, offering gifts and making the application of henna a pleasant and relaxing time for her, making her feel more beautiful and confident. Often, they are the very friends who apply henna on the bride.

                                                                                   By Gopal Swami Khetanchi

       After the application of elaborate designs on the hands and feet, the bride once again is "obliged" to relax, because it takes some time for the henna dry and its natural dye to penetrate the layers of the skin, settling into the cells. And then her friends come back into action to help her in whatever way necessary. This inspires in the bride a feeling of confidence, knowing that she is loved and has friends she can count on for better or worse.

         Few people know, however, the ritual of applying henna in pregnancy, pre and post-partum. The principles are the same of traditional henna wedding, and as she receives for the second time the henna during pregnancy, it brings back memories of the happy occasion of her marriage, making her to remember that the child is the fruit of this holy union. They also say that the application of henna in pregnancy in Hindu culture is a way to ease the symptoms of postpartum depression, it makes it feel more beautiful, loved and protected not only by loved ones, but also protected by the symbols of protection and good luck present in the henna designs.

       The mehandi also appears on other important occasions in Hindu social life, especially when one is starting a new stage in life. The mehandi marks a festive time, and it is also believed that brings good luck, protection and purification (this last quality is perhaps connected with its natural antiseptic properties).

        We’ll take a look at the meaning of some symbols, and how it can remind us of Radha and Krishna while we contemplate drawings made with henna:

Peacock - Symbol of love, divinity, royalty, and beauty. The peacock is considered an animal with very auspicious features, for example, it has a natural crown on its head and it’s a predator of snakes, symbolizing his power to the destruction of envy and all evil. Krishna wears a peacock feather on his head as an ornament. This makes the peacock an animal not only special, but sacred. In Vrndavan, a city where Krishna manifested His children and youth pastimes, until now the peacocks roam freely through their yards and woods. In the morning they play the same role of cocks in the West, waking up residents of Vrindavan with its distinctive crowing sound. There is a legend in Vrndavan that tells about how the peacocks are fertilized. It is said that when they see rain clouds (the skin color of Krishna is compared to a rain cloud), the peacocks remember of Krishna fondly and begin to sing and cry. The female peacocks are fertilized from drinking water of this rain that falls.

Parrots - Symbol of love and fidelity. Parrots are animals naturally very loyal to their partner that is usually only one for life. They are even able to die with grief at the death of his companion.  They act as the messengers of love in the pastimes of Radha and Krishna. Through them, Their meetings are appointed under the command of Vrinda Devi, the dear friend and servant of the divine couple. Radharani also has a pet parrot, who later came to be Sukadeva Goswami.

Swans - Symbol of beauty, spirituality and discernment. Paramahansa, is a title given to the great spiritualists who can distinguish the real and eternal world, the illusory and temporary as well as the swan can extract only the milk even after it has been mixed with water. There are also several of them roaming through Vrndanan lakes! The Goddess Saraswati is transported by a beautiful swan.

Fish - Symbol of love and conquest, spirituality, knowledge and prosperity. It is the symbol of the flag emblem of Cupid, who with his arrows of flowers enchants the lovers. It is one of the symbols found on the feet of Vishnu, and also one of His forms taken to save the Vedic scriptures on the occasion of a flood, the Lord Matsya Avatara.

Lotus - Flower symbol of spirituality, beauty, femininity, purity, and mercy. It is a symbol of Lakshmi and is one of the items that Vishnu holds in one of his four arms, symbolizing His love for His devotees. This symbol is also one of the designs found on the soles of his feet. Like all symbols found on the feet of Krishna, it is also found at the feet of all His expansion as a certificate of authenticity. The feet of deities and holy people are compared to the lotus, which never comes into contact with the material world, as well as the very lotus that rises under water.

Mango - Symbol of prosperity and fertility. It is considered the highest of the fruits, the nectar of the gods. The mango leaves are also used in various ceremonies and religious festivals in the decoration of bringing success and auspiciousness. It is also a symbol of femininity, often used to decorate Radharani.

Swastika and mandalas in general - Symbolize the sun, the demi-god Surya, who brings prosperity, wealth, success, courage, initiative, insight, spirituality and health. Open paths. Widely used also in rangoli.

Shri - Is the Goddess of Wealth, Lakshmi, the consort of Vishnu. Give wealth, wisdom, spirituality, faith, beauty, and all sorts of blessings for those who serve to Her spouse. She appears in Mehandi in Her written form in Devanagari, the language of the Gods. Shri is also a prefix that precedes the divine names.

All these symbols are subject to a lot of talk about Krishna during the application of henna, what makes this service especially enjoyable! These are just some of the most commonly used symbols. I invite all readers to share more hobbies related to the symbols above and add information as the knowledge of each one.

Thank you!
Hare Krishna!

Rosana Araújo is plastic artist, bachelor in engraving by the School of Fine Arts at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). Check out some photos of her work. You can know more about their art on http://rosanaraujo.arteblog.com.br/ or contact her by the email: rosananevesrj@hotmail.com.

0 comentários:

Post a Comment