All that you need to know about the simple Alta Mehendi.

Bengali Mehndi with the Quintessential Alta Dye: A dying Culture


Henna Tattoo: The New Normal for Bengal Brides?

DISCLAIMER-This blog  is in no way “debating” or “comparing” between Henna tattoo V/S Atla Mehendi. It is wholly written with the intention to revive the essence of the traditional Bengali mehndi which is dying a slow death owing to the “Old-School” notion.

Indian weddings are incomplete without tinting the hands and feet of the bride-to-be, is a no-brainer. From the day a woman gets married, the rich red color becomes a part of her entity. Alta dye is a traditional red dye, which happens to be a vital part of the Bengali Bridal trousseau. The vibrant red color of the alta dye resembles blood, which in all ancient and modern pagan cultures is symbolic of purity, prosperity and fertility.

An easy adornment to apply, the eye-pleasing Bengali mehndi design is made by painting the alta dye on the soles or the border of the feet, along with elaborate designs decorating the upper foot. The alta design so made not only accentuates the beauty of the hand and feet, but also provides a cooling effect to the body heat and prevent crack heels.

If you are Bong Beauty or someone looking to borrow a few beauty secrets from a Bengali Bride, then you should know that her timeless beauty has it’s roots in Simplicity, Authenticity and Ethnicity. One unique element that makes a Bengali Bride stand out is that they go for the traditional look and try to be free from artifice as much  as possible, which is why they almost always prefer Alta Mehendi  to Henna Tattoo.

A Bengali woman devotes as much attention on adorning her feet with Alta design, as much as she does to her hair and face. Unfortunately, Bengali Brides these days have succumbed to the huge Indian media manipulation and flashy bridal packages, which has led them to give so much importance to the Henna tattoo that the tradition of Bengali Mehndi is slowly dying. Not averse the intricate Henna tattoo designedhands, but if carefully considered, the sophisticated gold jewellery, heavy work Banarasi saree and a pair of clean glowing hand with Alta design, which is the look for the blushing Bengali Bride’s “Biye-Night”, are an impeccable combination on its own.

Unveiling the mysterious discovery of Henna Tattoo

The Bengali mehndi and Henna tattoo serve the same purpose of adorning the hand and feet and are certainly built on the same design principles, but they differ on the grounds of origin, method of application and ingredients.

Alta Mehendi belongs to the native soil of India but Henna Tattoo is from a foreign soil. It is interesting to know that the ancient Persians can be traced as the possible source of introduction of the henna plant on Indian soil, via the barter exchange system. Slowly, the Islamic invasions penetrated, as the marriage of alliance of the royal Brides of Rajasthan to the Mughals made them strictly adapt to their tradition and culture, of which applying Henna Tattoo was one of them.

The period movie – “Jodha Akbar” bears testimony to the above stated fact, where Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, portraying Princess Jodha, is seen wearing Alta dye on her feet. Even in Bengali-inspired movies like “Chokher-Bali” and “Devdas” (special mention of the evergreen Dola re Dola song,which could make even the grumpiest of souls hit the dance floor), Aish is seen portraying a Bengali Bride, flaunting her Alta look.

Mythical implication of the Bengali Mehndi

The importance of the Alta Mehendi has evidence in the Hindu Upanishads. It all dates back to the Vedic times, wherein the paintings give a glimpse of Lord Krishna adorning the feet of his beloved Radha with Alta dye– a natural red pigment extracted from the juice of the crushed betel leaves, which later got replaced by vermillion and is now said to be produced by using lac and other chemical colors, which one must use with precaution.

Even as for to sculptures and images of Maa Durga and Devi Lakshmi,as depicted by the old artisans in fold art,one can witness the hands and feet of these dieties painted with red Alta dye and not Henna Tattoo.

Only the Indian classical dance forms like Bharatnatyam, Kuchipudi, Odissi, Kathak, Mohiniyattam and Manipuri, which depict stories of various gods and goddesses, have remained true to their ancient make-up kit.The traditional dancers do not make appearance on the stage without applying the Alta dye. It is believed that the red hands make the mudras (gestures) look splendid and dramatic and also awakens the prana in one’s body.

The Vedic culture has imparted Alta dye with a significant status as one of the 16 Bridal Adornments or “Solah Shringar”, and rightfully so!

Noteworthy Ritualistic Significance of Alta dye

Apart from the traditional and cultural values attached to applying the Bengali Mehndi, there is a belief amongst the Bengali women that deeper and richer the color of the Bengali bride’s   alta mehendi, the better will be her relations with her mother-in-law.

There is a celebratory ritual too in which the newly-wedded Bengali bride has to first dip her feet in a plate of milk and Alta dye, before crossing the threshold, after which she enters her new home with her right foot, leaving trails of beautiful footprints behind. This pious post-wedding ceremony symbolizes the Bengali bride as Goddess Lakshmi entering the house, bringing along with her an abundance of health, wealth and good omen.

Bengali women also abide by the customary practice of wearing  Alta mehendi to weddings, celebrations and other auspicious occassions like Durga Puja.

Why not ditch the Alta Allure

Enough emphasis cannot be laid on how embrace-worthy the Alta mehendi   culture is not just for sacred-cosmetic reasons alone, but a lot more than that. Read on for more insights-

  • Offers a positive shift-  The  Alta Mehendi  offers a welcome change to the women who have zero tolerance for the pungent smell of the Henna Tattoo.
  • Fast drying out property- Alta dye doesn’t have a very long wearing time which makes it convenient to be worn even in the morning of the event. Just keep it for 5 minutes and you are good to go!
  • No Proness required- Alta design needs very basic painting skills for subtle designs as opposed to spending thousands on a professional with artistic skills required for the intricate Henna tattoo designs.
  • Is fading Henna Tattoo a nightmare for you?-Some women fret about the patchy look a fading Mehndi leaves behind for days, which happens because Henna Tattoo sheds naturally with the skin, whereas the Bengali Mehndi  will never let you down as it will leave a pretty pink stain on fading, giving a healthy-looking, blush-like hue look to the skin.

As told earlier, with no hard feelings for the Henna Tattoo culture, this blog was just a small attempt to rekindle the love for the Alta Mehendi among the Bengali brides to-be, as usual Mehndi can be applied by any and every bride, but the charm of a Bengali bride in her traditional element is a treat for the eyes, to say the least. While many people have done away with a lot of traditional activities, it is strongly recommended for the Bengali brides out there to be untouched by this trend, rather than conforming to the ongoing bridal fashion trends. After all, when it comes to Shubho Drishti scenes, the unmatched glamour of the Bengali bride hiding her face behind the betel leaves with Alta designed hands, will make any connoisseur go weak in the knees. Come on now! Who wouldn’t want to replicate the ethereal look of their mother on her wedding day?! Enough being said, at the end of the day make a choice based on what will suit your personality the best, for your D-Day. The ball is in your court, Girls!

Urvasi Jain

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