Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Henna Use As Adornment & Healing in Muslim Tradition

Henna occupies a unique place in the Moslem world.

Botanists believe the henna plant, Lawsonia inermis, originated in Persia. It grew extensively in Egypt and was carried to India where it was used since at least 700 AD for decorating hands and feet.  Some sources claim that the Moguls took the use of henna to India in the 12th Century C.E., centuries after use in the Middle East and North Africa. There is evidence to support that the tradition of mehndi originated in North Africa and the Middle Eastern countries during ancient times.

One of the earliest documentations of henna use comes from ancient Egypt, where it is known to have been used to stain the fingers and toes of the Pharaohs prior to mummification. 

Historically henna has also been used for medicinal purposes, to dye cloth and leather as well as hair, to color the manes of horses and other fur of other animals. In many eastern places, henna is thought to hold special medicinal or even magical properties. It is used to help heal skin diseases, prevent thinning hair, and cool the skin to reduce swelling in hot climates. It is made into a beverage to heal headaches and stomach pain. Newly purchased homes in Morocco often have their doors painted with henna to wish for prosperity and chase away evil. Henna is used as a protection against the “evil eye”. The foreheads of bulls, milk cows, and horses are sometimes decorated with henna for their protection. Tombstones in graveyards are sometimes washed with henna to please the sprits.

Henna is used in celebrations of betrothals, weddings, births, circumcisions, religious holidays (similarly for Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Christians and other religions) and National festivals. 

Henna was incorporated into the customs of Muslims in the 6th century CE. Henna traditions were long established in Arabia, and henna was used by Prophet Mohammed and all of his wives. As Islam expanded quickly into other countries, eastern Mediterranean henna traditions followed.

Henna was grown and used in Spain, by Christians, Jews and Moors from the 9th century AD until 1567 when the Spanish Inquisition outlawed it.

Muslims worldwide continue to celebrate the “Night of the Henna” and regard henna as a beautiful and suitable ornament for women to the present day.

Some of the most complex and elegant hennaes ever created were done between 900 to 1700 CE in the Islamic countries. Many miniature paintings and pottery pieces show elegantly patterned red and black henna during this period. Delicate and expressive henna patterns reached their peak in medieval Persia, incorporating calligraphy, multiple applications and varied colors. Persian henna artists achieved blacks, reds, browns, golds, oranges, even blue and green tints with additional herbs, spices and unusual techniques!

The henna paste is carefully applied and must remain undisturbed on the skin for several hours to create a strong dark stain. Most recipes contain some combination of sifted ground henna leaves, strong black tea, lemon juice and a few drops of eucalyptus oil. The thickness of the paste determines the ease of application. Factors which influence the intensity of the final design include heat, warmth which darkens the stain, and length of time the henna paste is left on the skin. Once the paste is applied it will dry and eventually crack. Today some artists still use sticks or toothpicks to apply it, though many prefer homemade plastic cones or large syringes. 

The leaves, flowers, and twigs are ground into a fine powder, and then mixed with hot water. Various shades are obtainable by mixing with the leaves of other plants, such as indigo, tea, coffee, cloves, tamarind, lemon, sugar, and various oils are also used to enhance the colour and longevity of design.

Generally, Arabic (Middle-eastern) mehndi features large, floral patterns on hands and feet, while Indian (Asian) mehndi uses fine line, lacy, floral and paisley patterns covering entire hands, forearms, feet and shins; and African mehndi art is large, and bold with geometrically patterned angles. African mehndi patterns usually use black henna while Asian and Middle Eastern mehndi is often reddish brown.

It is also a common custom in many countries to step into the mehndi, or simply apply the paste without creating a pattern in order to cool, protect or treat the skin (sometimes referred to as a “henna-shoe").

Henna is still in use in all the Middle Eastern and North African countries, though in some areas henna fell out of favor in the 20th century as women sought to emulate European and American fashions.

In the early Mughal courts of India, Persian women with elaborate black henna patterns are depicted alongside Indian women with red-tinted, although unpatterned hands. By 1700, the bridal celebration of the “Night of the Henna” was a well-established part of Muslim India’s traditions, and married Muslim women in India frequently used henna for adornment, for luck, and to enhance sensuality. A portrait of Mumtaz Mahal has one of the earliest Indian patterned hennaes.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Development & Foundation of the Sari by Hindu & Muslim Culture

The history and origin of sari seems to date back to the period of the establishment of civilization. Evidence states that women in the Indus Valley civilization used to cover themselves with a long piece of cloth, draped like a trouser. However, the word ‘sari’ originated from the Prakrit word ‘sattika’, which is mentioned in the early Buddhist literature. The word got shortened and was called sati, which further evolved into sari.

A statue recovered from the Indus Valley Civilization depicts a female priest wearing a cloth draped like a sari. The sari used to be draped in a way so that it divides the two legs and forms a trouser like attire. This was basically done to aid the temple dancers in their movements and also cover to their modesty. It is believed that the ‘dhoti’, which is the oldest Indian garment that was draped, is the foundation behind the sari. Till the 14th century, the dhoti was worn by both men and women.

The early statues of Goddesses show that the sari was draped in a sensual manner, like a ‘fishtail’, which was tied at the waist, covered up the legs and came in front of the legs like a decorative drape. During that era, the upper part of the body was either partially covered or was left bare. Down south in the state of Kerala, one can still see people wearing the traditional sari, which is a two piece garment, consisting of a lungi and a shawl. With the coming of the Muslims, the ghagra or the petticoat was discovered and clothes were stitched. Before that, Hindus believed piercing clothes with needles was impure.
The blouse came into existence with the Muslims and also the British. Since then, sari has come of age and now many new styles are being experimented with.
The Indian Sari  is more than 5000 years old. It was first mentioned in Rig Veda, the oldest surviving literature of the world, written somewhere around 3000 BC. The Sari, originally intended both for men and women, is probably the longest incessantly worn dress in the history of mankind.

Every Sari has a design theme, and often has a story to tell. The main field of the sari is framed on its three sides by decorative borders. Two of these borders run along the longitudinal sides of the sari, and the third comprises the end piece of the sari, and is known as its Pallav.

The Pallav is a border, and the more intensified version of the two longitudinal borders. This end piece is the part of the sari that is draped over the shoulder and left to hang over the back or front.

The Banarasi sari is a must for brides. This classic style came into existence during the Moghul era. The signature design of Banarasi saris is a narrow fringe like pattern - called Jhalar - found along the inner and outer border of the fabric.