Together Forever – A Henna Tradition

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Indian
Age: 30
Occupation: Pediatric Eye Surgeon
Residence: Bangalore, India
Date of Performance/Collection: 3/19/2014
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Hindi, Tamil

Item and Context:

“Henna traditions are deeply entrenched in the proceedings of Indian weddings. I remember when I was a teenager, my older female cousins would be getting married, and they would tease all of us younger girls by saying that if they hid the initials of our boyfriends in our henna and the respective boys were able to find them in the swirls and floral patterns, we would be together forever. Of course, being a teenager, I found this pretty embarrassing and awkward, as most teenage girls are when it comes to boys. Now, it’s no big deal, because I’m already married. But the next time any of the girls in our family gets married, I won’t leave you!”

Analysis:

As the informant mentioned, henna is really important in Indian weddings, regardless of religious affiliation. There are man different henna rituals and traditions, including this one. Oftentimes, the people targeted by this “hidden initials” ritual are the teenage girls of the wedding party, i.e. the ones who are about to grow up and get married soon enough. Therefore, it is common to embarrass them by hinting towards their upcoming weddings. Also, the idea of predestination is important in the faith of Hinduism, the predominant religion of India. The idea that a woman’s soulmate has already been picked out for her from lifetimes before and for lifetimes after is highlighted by this tradition, and the ideal outcome is that the girl’s supposed boyfriend should find his initials in the girl’s henna. Since henna is traditionally applied on the palms of a girl’s hands, the notion of palmistry is also brought up here ; if the boyfriend is able to find his initials in the girl’s henna, symbolically, he is finding and establishing his place in her hectic life as well.