by Katrina Forsythe, dramaturg
In Afghanistan, when a girl gets married, her hands and feet are painted with henna. It symbolizes her transition from single girl to married woman, with all that implies. The process takes hours, and the effects last for weeks.
This is an easy way to identify a recently married bride. The henna is made from ground up plant fibers soaked in water. The paste is applied like frosting on a cake through a hole the size of a needle’s eye. It goes on a dark brown, almost black, but after it dries—it’s best if you don’t touch anything for a few hours—the dark part flakes off and a dark orange-brown dye is left behind. Traditional patterns include leaves and flowers, swirls and paisley patterns. The groom’s name written on the bride’s hands is also a popular choice. The dye stands out darkest on the hands and feet, but a bride will often have henna on both sides of her hands and up to her elbows, as well as on her feet up to her calves. The henna has a sweet, slightly sharp smell, which lingers until the dye has completely worn off.