Madurai women move from maruthani to mehandi

It is the weekend before New Year and the mood at this mall atrium is upbeat. Among the cacophony of playing kids, yelling parents, gossiping women and giggling men, Avinash is silent, his head down concentrating on the design he is drawing. He squeezes the cone and swiftly moves it as the pasty mehandi inside oozes out.

“I learnt to draw mehandi from my uncle, who has an experience of three decades,” says Avinash, who has been a mehandi artist for seven years now. “Certain parts of old Delhi are known for mehandi artists.” It has only been six months since he moved to Madurai and set up a mehandi kiosk at Milan’em mall. Previously, he had a stall in Brookfield mall in Coimbatore.

“The customer base in North India for mehandi is saturated. In the South, cone-mehandi is relatively new. I came here to tap the potential market,” he says, as a college girl comes up with her palms open. Apart from the traditional maruthani which used to be drawn during festivals, the mehandi with intricate designs seems to have captured the attention of women in Madurai.

“Mehandi comes from a town called Sojat near Jaipur in Rajasthan,” says Rohit, another mehandi artist at the mall. “It symbolises auspiciousness. Both Muslims and Hindus consider it an important part of decoration. In North India, mehandi is an integral part of all functions. During marriages, a separate ceremony is conducted when every guest in the event gets a mehandi drawn.” Showing an album with various designs and patterns, he says, “We have nearly 1000 designs. Most of them are floral and foliage motifs, apart from bridal mehandi, which will have jaali patterns.”

Mehandi is simple to prepare. Powdered henna is soaked in water for three hours and the mixture is beaten with a spoon for 15 minutes to achieve a uniform paste-like consistency. Paper cones are filled with the paste and tied. “We apply eucalyptus oil on the palm before putting mehandi as it gives rich and deep colour,” says Rohit. “The mehandi should be washed only after an hour and the colour may remain for a week or more. Intricate patterns would consume more cones than simple designs. Rajasthani and Marwari mehandi are done in the style of miniature paintings.”

The price varies according to the density and intricacy of the design. A simple mehandi design on one palm would cost a minimum of Rs.50.

“Bridal mehandis may take over two hours to complete and the price starts from Rs.2500 onwards,” says Avinash, who has drawn mehandis for nearly 200 weddings so far. “I am soon opening stalls in Vishal Mall and the upcoming Big Bazaar as the response for mehandi is overwhelming in Madurai.”