Tag Archives: henna

Wedding Weekend Post III: A Bit of Rain, A Bit of Henna, and A Bit of Relaxation Admist a Whole Lotta Rushin’

Friday morning I woke up to a torrential downpour. No—what’s the next level above torrential downpour? Because it was coming down in buckets.

I had been afraid to check the weather most of the week, because I knew weather was out of my control, and if I didn’t like what I was going to see, I almost didn’t want to know. With all my bad luck in the previous few weeks I thought for sure it would rain for our weddings. About ten days before Weather.com said that there would be rain on Weds, Thurs, and Friday before our wedding weekend, but it would be partly cloudy and dry on Sat and Sun; however as the days dwindled down, the rain didn’t materialize, eventually the reports said rain on Friday and Saturday. I rationalized that the red wedding was mostly inside, so if it was going to rain one day I’d rather it on Saturday, but waking up to the gray dismal sky I couldn’t help but be a little worried for the whole weekend.

I got up, and ready. My plan was to sneak out of the house early because I had set up an appointment to get my feet hennaed at a pallor I discovered recently at a city-wide Asian festival. I didn’t want to tell anyone about my little indulgence because I thought my mother would get mad that I “ruined my feet for the American wedding” and I thought P’s mother would find it odd since “it isn’t part of our Nepali culture.”

When I got up I noticed P’s parents weren’t around. They had taken advantage of a brief lull in the rain to take their morning walk, so I went down with my sister K to walk our dogs, and to run to the local Dunkin Donuts to get my mom a coffee. Before I left P said that he thought his parents had already walked to the Dunkin Donuts, but I thought he was kidding.

Lo and behold, as I drove up to the DDs I saw P’s parents carrying a box of donuts under an umbrella. I pulled over to the side of the road and offered to drive them back, but they waved me off. They must have felt that they were “hosting” my mom and sisters and wanted to bring back breakfast, which was sweet (although they brought back a bunch of plain donuts instead of chocolate, glaze and other more colorful flavors). I got the coffee, drove back, and by the time I grabbed my wallet to run to the henna place the sky had opened up again. In the few feet from our apartment door to the car I was nearly soaked through.

So I went in search of my soon-to-be in-laws, imagining them drenched carrying a soggy cardboard box of donuts. I drove up and down the street three times, but I couldn’t find them anywhere. I even ran into the Vietnamese grocery store looking for them (becoming even more wet in the process) to no avail. I called P and told him how bad the rain was (“I can barely see through the windshield with the wipers on full blast!”), and that he might want to take a car out looking for them, because I was getting late for my appointment.

I arrived at the beauty pallor about fifteen minutes late. I was already starting to regret making the appointment. I thought it was probably frivolous to get my feet hennaed, and that maybe people would be upset with me, that it would take too long, that it would look ridiculous. The woman who was doing the henna reassured me it was fine, and we looked through the books of designs. I picked something that was a medium level of intricacy, not all the way up the leg, but a small design on the ankles, with peacocks on the inner tops of my feet and fans around the edges.

Believe it or not, I didn't think to take a picture of my feet until about a week after the wedding, so the henna doesn't look as nice any more (too faded), but it gives you an idea...

By the time the shop officially opened and the two other employees arrived, one foot was complete. One of the workers was Nepali. She had just arrived from KTM six months before, and was excited to sit with me and talk. I had started the conversation with “Nepali ho?” as she walked by and she was eager to talk to a westerner getting married to a Nepali man. She had a lot of questions—had I been to Nepal? Had I seen a Nepali wedding before? Did I know about tilhari? About sindoor?

I told her about the dubo ko mala P’s parents had brought from Kathmandu and that we were keeping in our refrigerator covered in wet towels to keep them fresh for the wedding. She told me that she was Gurung but her husband was Chetri (a love marriage), so their wedding customs were very different (“In my culture we don’t have red tikka, we have white tikka. We are not Hindu we are Buddhist.”) I explained to her that my soon-to-be MIL is also Buddhist (Newari) but married a Chetri so she follows many Hindu customs as well. As we spoke the Nepali woman grew more excited, and started calling me “Bhauju” (sister-in-law). She offered to thread my eyebrows to make me “beautiful for the wedding.” When she started asking for details about when and where the wedding was taking place, I half expected her to show up the following day, but she didn’t.

The torrential downpour had started to subside, and even though my feet were not completely dry, I was running late to meet my bridesmaids (my sisters K and M and friends AS and R) who had planned a pre-wedding spa appointment as a mini bachelorette party. We were supposed to have lunch (which we missed due to my feet taking longer than expected—the Indian woman originally told me “it will take only half an hour,” but then I ran fifteen minutes late looking for my inlaws in the rain, and the feet took an hour and a half). We hoped that skipping lunch would help get us in and out of the spa quicker, but the spa still took a long time.

At the spa I had my nails done, and a massage to help relax. The massage was nice because it forced me to sit quietly for a little while and collect my thoughts (I was mentally making checklists—go home and grab this, this, and that, etc). Everything seemed to be happening really quickly. As soon as I was done with the massage, I told the girls I had to run home and change and grab some stuff for the white wedding rehearsal, and that I would send R’s husband S to pick them up and bring them to the white wedding venue. I got home to find the rest of the family ready and on their way out the door. I jumped into my rehearsal dress, grabbed the bridesmaids gifts, my dad’s tie and dhaka topi, the seating chart for the dinner tables, extra programs, extra copies of the readings, etc., and shooed S out the door to pick up the girls.

At the spa R and AS had complemented my feet. In retrospect I was glad that I took the time to do henna, even though it made the entire day run late. It’s now pretty faded, but when I look down at my feet it reminds me of the wedding, and makes me smile. It was also like a nice little secret, throughout the wedding weekend I could lift my skirt a few inches to show off my feet like a surprise detail, but they were mostly covered so people only saw them if I wanted to show them off.

A glimpse of henna on my feet during the red wedding

(Friday Part II)

Mehendi

Mehendi (henna) is more of an Indian tradition than Nepali. I am sure you could check several other gori blogs to find pictures of amazing intricate henna up and down the arms and legs of soon-to-be pardesi brides. However I think there is a growing trend for Nepali brides to take up this Indian tradition, due to the cultural influences of Bollywood, and let’s be honest… mehendi is beautiful and fun.

When I was a student in Jaipur a friend and I ventured to the “pink city” to have henna applied before a special dinner program where we girls dressed up in saris for the first time. This was also the first time I ever had mehendi “officially” applied.

You can almost see the henna on my hands. First attempt at wearing a sari.

The next time I had the chance was in Nepal for my friend R’s wedding (more pictures HERE). P’s mom seemed so confused why we would want to do this. She kept shaking her head saying, “This is not our tradition. Why is she doing?” I came back with my hands all designed and ready to go.

Henna from R's wedding-- with sugar and lemon juice making my hands glossy and sticky. Supposedly a way to "darken and strengthen the mehendi"

The third time was for my friend AS’s wedding. In lieu of a “bachelorette” party, we invited female friends over to eat, dance, rub turmeric and sandalwood paste on AS’s face and arms, and to apply henna on each other’s hands. I just applied it on my palms so that while I was at work the henna wasn’t as noticeable, but it was still fun!

Before the henna dried

So after two weddings worth of henna, R and AS thought it would be fun to organize a mehendi party for me, and invited friends over on Sunday for some food, wine, and henna paste. I guess traditionally it would be a “women’s only” event, but we had the guys over too, and they were able to amuse themselves during our henna making with a different Nepali tradition—card playing (although a Bulgarian friend was the eventual winner!)

R and AS decorated R’s apartment with saris and dupattas to give it a “Bollywoody” feel, and many of us dressed in colorful kurtas. R’s brother-in-law’s new fiancé was designated as the mehendi artist for me, while AS and other’s took up the henna cones to design each other’s hands.

It was fun—and R’s soon-to-be sister-in-law hid a small P on one of my palms to see if P could find it within 60 seconds. The bet was that if he found it I would have to get up and dance for the whole group to the song “Shelia ki Jawani” which of course I wound up having to do, but at least he joined me halfway through the song!

It’s funny having henna on my hands in the US, because there are those who know about P and the region of the world he is from, and kind of “expect this kind of thing” from me. Yet then there are others—like the custodian in my office who came in the other day to collect the trash and noticed my palms when I handed him the garbage can and exclaimed, “What on earth did you do to your hands?!” and continued to look at me funny while I explained. My sister, who works as a bank teller, said that her co-workers asked if she was bored over the weekend and wrote on herself with brown marker. I’m sure for some people it just looks weird.

But I still like it. The reason we did the mehendi early is because my mother already warned me (she falls into the category of “expecting this kind of thing” out of me) that I was not allowed to have “anything on my hands that will ruin the white wedding photos.” (She was even concerned about the sindor before I was able to convince her that it can be easily washed off in time.) However being the rebel that I am, I kind of want to find someone to do henna on my feet for the wedding, kind of like a secret, since at least for the white wedding my feet will be covered. I’m sure I can find one of my Indian students who might be interested, although P’s mother again will probably be perplexed, “Why do this, it is not our Nepali culture?” Hmmmm… We will see.

Photos from the event:

The designing begins...

1st from left- college friend, 2nd in blue-AS, 3rd in white-my sister K, 4th-C, 5th-R, 6th-R's soon-to-be new sister-in-law, 7th-S's sister

Some of the hands, waiting to dry...

Wedding Season

Wedding season is upon us! It feels that way at least, with a wedding happening in our house tomorrow. No—I didn’t decide to jump the gun, our summer roommates and good friends AS and N are getting married tomorrow.

Our whole household has been very busy helping them organize, and I’m excited to see it all come together tomorrow morning. I’m also excited to help make flower garlands for the wedding ceremony tonight. I found a bucket full of red carnations at the store yesterday, and bought some green yarn and large needles to string the flowers. I’m getting all sorts of ideas.

Last night we had a sangeet/bachelorette party for AS—a sangeet is an Indian tradition not Nepali, but we thought it would be a fun way to have a ladies night anyway. We ate lots of great food, including one of my favorites– pani puri, listened to Bollywood music, rubbed turmeric on the bride’s face and arms to give her a “golden glow” (which she certainly still has this morning… even I do, my fingers have been stained yellow from painting her face),  had lots of drinks (well, it was a bachelorette party), and then made henna designs (which could have been a lot more interesting considering the drinking, but my hands look descent enough this morning ;)).

I don't know why I always wear this shirt when I have henna done... now its kinda like my official henna application outfit.

So get ready for the  return of my green wedding sari (from the R & S affair), it’s wedding time in the American-Nepali Household!!

Did I mention there is another wedding on Friday?

Monsoon Wedding Part II- Begins with the Bride

P and I missed the Supari, but since we planned to be around for the rest of the ceremonies, we didn’t think it was too big a deal. At the time we were still on our Solukhubu trek, but things became tense when we got stuck in Lukla and I was worried we would miss larger chunks of the wedding.

The Supari (as it is known in Newari culture) is a type of engagement ceremony, or at least a formal announcement/acceptance of the relationship. The bride’s family isn’t able to proceed with any of the wedding parties until the supari has occurred.

Supari is the Nepali word for betelnut, and the ceremony bares its name because the nut has a central role. The groom’s family travels to the bride’s family for the first time, bringing gifts (we will see these gifts again later). Traditionally they brought 4-6 betelnuts in little pouches for the family as well as sindoor which is used during the “actual” wedding ceremony (swayambar), although now more gifts have been added over time in addition to the betelnuts. The bride’s family provides refreshments while the groom’s family gives the gifts, and the bride is essentially sitting pretty so the groom’s family can check her out. Interestingly enough the groom is not allowed to come to this ceremony at all. Poor S spent his evening sitting out in the car during R’s supari since he wasn’t able to be part of the ceremony, until a friend came along and took him out for a beer.

S's mom gives R blessings (tikka) during Supari. During the entire wedding process (days and days) R could only wear clothing in shades of red.

A few days after the supari… and luckily once we returned from Lukla, R decided to have some cousins and aunties over to put henna on our hands. Bridal henna is not a Nepali tradition, and isn’t traditionally part of the wedding preparations as it is in many parts of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. However Nepali brides are starting to use henna because of pop culture influences like Bollywood. I wanted to do it too, even though P’s family seemed confused as to why R was having this done.

My henna application begins

I pose with two of R's cousins with our finished henna... well almost finished. We sat with the henna paste drying on our hands for hours... occasionally applying a lemon juice/sugar mixture which supposedly helped the henna dye to darken and permeate the skin better

While we were getting our hands henna-fied, R’s brother and cousins were helping to fold hundreds of invitations. Most of these invitations are hand-delivered a few days before the ceremony. The invitations are organized into bundles and given to various friends and family members who know others and they spread through the community it that way.

The Henna Evening was a nice way to get to know the bride’s family before the formal wedding began. The women bonded, and during the wedding itself it felt like we had a special code… occasionally I’d flash my henna-ed palm at one of R’s cousins or aunties, and they would flash it back like a secret greeting.

Shortly thereafter R’s family had the bride’s reception. Both the groom’s family and the bride’s family have wedding receptions, but the difference is that during the groom’s reception the couple is already married and both the bride and groom are present. However the bride’s reception occurs before the marriage ceremony (probably because traditionally the bride is married away into another family, so the bride’s family has to have their party before she leaves)… and since the bride and groom don’t traditionally meet before the “actual” wedding that means the bride presides over the reception without the groom. She sits on a platform at the front of the reception while friends and family come up to congratulate her and bring gifts.

I get my chance to pose with the lovely bride

From left to right: P's mom, me, R, P's dad, J Phupu, and P's cousin. P is the photographer so he isn't present :(

The thing that is probably most shocking to the average American is the number of people that attend these various receptions. Average American weddings are around 100-150 people. Average Nepali weddings have hundreds more–  between 400-600, and remember there is more than one party! The sheer numbers are a bit boggling. One friend’s brother had 1200 people. Can you imagine?

Most weddings are buffet style, so the organizers don’t have to worry so much about seating, and who is eating what, or even RSVPs, like in American weddings. That’s how friends and neighbors of invitees can be randomly invited along as well. (remember “invited to the wedding…“?)