The Crush of the Henna Leaves


Update for year ended 6 August 2010

The cheerful house was full of giggling gaggle of girls. They were gaily dressed and flitting in and out of the house carrying their wicker baskets full of henna leaves. They took it to the courtyard in the centre of the villa where Rasathi was seated near the grinding stone. She was getting ready to crush the leaves into a thick paste. All the girls gathered around Rasathi and eagerly looked forward to the ritual that was to follow. Rasathi picked up more than a handful of the leaves, placed it on the stone slab and sprinkled some water. She then shut her eyes momentarily in prayer, and then started her chant. The girls waited for her to complete the first stanza and when Rasathi picked up the crushing stone, they waited for her to start the rhythmic crush. That was when they started singing in chorus about the gathering clouds, about pining hearts, the blinding rain, the scent of the wet earth, the green shoots in paddy fields, the coir swings strung on mango boughs. Rasathi would repeatedly add more leaf bunches and continue with the regimen. Once a while, she would pause to push back a lock of hair that had slipped out of place. Her messy hands would make it difficult to flick her hair, so she would sometimes use her wrist or urge her chorus choir members to oblige. And sometimes, the littlest of the girls would wrap her arms around Rasathi’s neck and when she sang her line, all would be silent to then rebuke her or tease her. And as the songs progressed, so did the mounds of the now brownish green paste, that Rasathi would scoop out into the brass bowl placed by her side. And then the girls would pass it around for the girls to pluck out a blob of the crush. And one at a time, the girls would start by applying the henna crush on the palm – first a large circular disc in the centre, and with satellite like little dots around it. They would then cap their finger tips with little “helmet-like” henna blobs and the next girl would help her with the feet applications. And this would go on till the last girl would be left with no-one to help her. Rasathi would then step in with her already coloured palms, and do the needful.

This week was full of song and cheer on D Street. The D Boyz who had ended last week hanging onto the SENSEX below 18000 started this week by piercing this level – and pushed the SENSEX to green levels as the song and rhythmic dance kept it it in high spirits. Of course, when the D Boyz wanted to scoop out some profits from the SENSEX, it slipped to show the red colours on the street. So the SENSEX which zoomed to a 23 month high slipped a few points on Thursday and Friday to end at 18144.

So don’t you want to know what Rasathi did to get her palms and feet hennaed? Her constant crushing of the green leaves, and the regular scooping up and scooping out, of the paste would have rendered her palms and fingers a deep red. Well her hands were deep crimson already with all that henna crushing, so she did not bother about them. She just applied the henna to her feet and joined the girls near the kitchen to be fed some coffee and freshly fried aamai vadais – fried black gram fritters spiced up with chillies and greens.

Monsoons are here and some of the traditions of the past are sometimes lost in the web of time. If any of you know the significance of the henna application, the songs sung, the swings strung on mango tree branches, the eating of fritters on rainy afternoons; please share it with me and others who read this.

Have a nice weekend … Cheers..

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4 thoughts on “The Crush of the Henna Leaves

  1. Henna has been used in India since centuries.
    Firstly it is plant source and color has always played a very important role in all the festivities and celebrations.Orange- red signifies “energy”.
    Henna has a cooling effect and when applied on the skin while gifting color it also cools the system as it dries on the palms and feet.
    Betel leaves are eaten as an to aid digestion after a good celebratory heavy meal and also add color to lips- natural lipstick!
    Fresh flowers like jasmine, golden champakam blooms are used to adorn hair and the natural perfume while pleasing the senses also has a cooling effect.
    So “henna” ,”paan- betel leaves” ,fresh flowers were natural plant products used on joyous occasions when friends and family gathered to celebrate.

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