'When my sister asked me to research wedding beauty rituals that she wanted to incorporate in her wedding preparation to me a natural place to start was India. A country which has always inspired me on so many levels, historically, culturally, and with many beauty rituals as bold and colourful as the country itself.
The vastness of India and its differing communities bring many a varied practice. In some places it is even common for both the bride and groom to undergo some of the rituals together; which to me seems like a wonderful way to start a life journey together.
A common ritual is the preparation of an intricate mix that cleanses, purifies and enhances the skin. Made from readily available ingredients including sandalwood, turmeric and RoseWater that are specially selected for their own unique properties. Sandalwood (locally known as Chandan) makes me recall my early days in Sri Lanka, treasuring a piece of sandalwood bark which I would grind away on a rock into a fine powder, mix with water and make a paste and apply to my face. Sandalwood has been used from time immemorial by both men and women to eliminate blemishes, rashes and blackheads
Turmeric (Haldi) is added, a traditional antiseptic which can improve skin tone, reduce pigmentation, clear excess sebum and impurities, rashes and facial hair growth. Rosewater (Gulabjal) is used as the binder in the cleansing mix which helps to relax the skin and tone it. It is also used by the bride’s family as they sprinkle it to welcome the groom’s arrival.
The spice of Gods and the ultimate glow.
Kesar, or saffron, is a golden colour spice and is also used as part of wedding rituals. Saffron milk is known to be drunk by the bride and groom on the night of their wedding owing to its ability to purify the blood making your skin glow. Saffron comes from the stigmas of the eponymous crocus flower. It offers a golden glow like no other and is deemed a luxury ingredient. It is one of the rarest and most expensive spices in the world and it helps to treat dry skin. In India it is revered as a spice of the gods and a symbol of good luck, holiness and purity.
Some Indian practices will involve the bride sitting in front of four diyas, or oil lamps, so that the glow from the lamps is reflected on her face leaving her glowing on her special day. Delving deeper into this world I then discovered the ultimate in beauty rituals; the ‘Solah Shringar’. A ritual steeped in ancient Indian culture.
The literal translation of 'Solah Shringar' is '16 adornments that a bride carries to adorn her beauty'. What a divine concept, which extols sixteen basic steps for the beautification of a bride from head to toe. It is deemed a beauty ritual not to be missed for a bride’s look would not be complete without it.
Solah Shringar is a ritual steeped in ancient Indian culture and is meant to bestow gifts of beauty on a bride to be. It also celebrates the beauty and divinity of the female form. There is a belief that certain ornaments and embellishments enhance the beauty of a woman giving her a celestial appearance. When adhering to the Solah Shringar, the ceremony will commence with divine bath of the bride known as the pre-shringar. Here, local aromatic oils are applied to a bride’s hair. The hair is then washed with a mix of herbs such as Brahmi, Shikakai, Aloe Vera, Bhringraj, and Amla. An enhanced version of the cleansing mix that in addition to the turmeric, sandalwood and rose water includes oil, milk, gram flour and some fragrant herbs is applied on a bride’s hands, arms, legs and face. This is akin to a face and body scrub and is known in India and Pakistan as Ubtan or Uptan. It is the women closest to a bride will make this paste and apply it to her face and body along with music and singing. The result is radiant, aromatic skin. To prepare a simple variation of this that you can try at home, take:
1 teaspoonful of Besan (chick pea powder or gram flour)
1 teaspoonful of Sandalwood powder
½ teaspoonful of Red lentil powder
1 teaspoonful of lemon Juice
¼ teaspoonful of Turmeric powder
Milk or rose water
Mix all the ingredients into a paste and rub into the skin. You can either give yourself a gentle massage with it or simple let it dry on its own. After some time, wash off with lukewarm water to reveal a bright glowing skin.
The Solah Shringar is head to toe attention to detail. Through these sixteen rituals there are guidelines on hair arrangements, make up - Kajal a black eyeliner which is meant to highlight and accentuate a brides beautiful eyes; to jewellery - nose rings, ear rings, necklaces, armlets, and bracelets.
Mehndi or Henna plays a large part in many Indian but also African and Middle Eastern wedding rituals. Both feet and hands are covered with intricate designs and in Asian cultures the red colour is considered to be auspicious because it has several emotional, sexual and fertility-related qualities. It is also common for the groom’s initials to be etched into the intricate design to which he is asked to find amongst.
I have been truly inspired by these wonderful bridal beauty rituals, that can as easily be translated into my everyday beauty ritual'.
: All images by Signe Vilstrup for Vogue India November 2013