The “Aalta” allure……

by - 20:09:00

Before I begin this piece, I would like to make it clear that this is not a post for “comparing” mehendi and aalta. It is just meant to revive the essence of a beautiful tradition which is having a slow death these days owing to flashy bridal packages which cater to the notion of “give me more”.
Bengali Alta
Bengali Bridal Alta

What is ‘Aalta’ or ‘Mahawar’ (As it is known in north or western India) is an adornment which dates back to the Vedic times. It was a red dye created by mixing the juice of betel leaves, kumkum and sindoor. You will get references in Indian mythology about Krishna painting the hands of his lady love with betel leaf juice, or even if you look at the deity statues made by old artisans, you will see that the hands of goddesses are painted with red alta and not mehendi. 

Krishna applying alta on Radha's feet
The “Aalta” allure

This was mostly because historically mehendi does not have its origin in India, it was a plant flourishing in the Middle-East, Central Asia and North Africa which was introduced in India by the Islamic invaders. Slowly the invasions penetrated and the betel juice was replaced by mehendi in the North-west and North India. Although, truth be told, Aalta is just a red dye artificially prepared these days just like the henna cones we get in market which are not exactly “natural”.
The “Aalta” allure
The “Aalta” allure

As much as being included in the “Solah-Shrigaar” of the bride as per the ancient Vedic rituals, aalta continues to be a vital part of the Bengali bridal trousseau. Even the South Indian women flaunt their alta colored hands and feet during their traditional dances.

But unfortunately, these days, owing to huge media manipulation and flashy bridal packages which seem to sing the song “more more more!!” in terms of designs et al, Bengali mothers are having to face grumbling daughters who whine about having a mehendi ceremony and covering their hands with dark brown mehendi.

I always love the exchange of cultures and their ideas but it equally irks me when I see one tradition dying a slow death because of giving too much attention to the other.

The vibrant red of aalta signified fertility and if you look carefully, the red benaroshi saree and those intricate gold jewellery which are THE look for a blushing Bengali bride would welcome a clean glowing hand with bright red designs rather than a mehendi wala hand. Nothing against mehendi, it’s just that the traditional Bengali jewellery designs look MUCH better on pair of hands with Aalta.
Photo Credits: Srejon Imagery

Other plus points of Aalta include the following:
·         It can be applied within 10 minutes and takes another 5 minutes to dry and you are sorted!
·         It can be applied by anyone and everyone. You don’t need to spend thousands on a special mehendi-wali
·         Brightens the hands and provides a perfect glowing canvas for those gleaming gold jewellery and “Shakha-Paula”(White conch-sell bangle and Red lac bangle-symbol of married Bengali women)
·         Fades into a pretty pink and stays maximum for a week. So you don’t have to worry about patchy hands.
Photo Credit: Srejon Imagery

Coming to my decision, even though I am in LOVE with intricate mehendi designs right from my childhood, I choose to look like a total traditional Bengali bride on my D-Day. No salon-manufactured look for me ;)

This post wasn’t a debate on which among Aalta or mehendi is better. A bride should choose exactly what makes her feel beautiful on her day and be unperturbed by society, Bollywood and media manipulations. The only point of this post was to stir up a little love for aalta among the Bengali brides-to be because it is NOT something to be forgotten, girls! Imagine our mothers’ without that aalta on pujo or special occasions- unthinkable right? Don’t you wish to look as ethereal as your mother did on her wedding? J

Ending this post with my Aalta applied hands (Just one hand because other hand had the camera L ) Like it? J Please share your views too…. Aalta anyone?

Alta painted hands with gold jewellery
The Aalta Allure
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