Indigo and Turmeric Body Art Traditions 
for Circumcision in Jewish Kurdistan: 
Lel Sheshe
copyright Catherine Cartwright-Jones c 2003
Kent State University

Indigo and Turmeric

Jews in Kurdistan celebrated the night before a newborn son's circumcision.  This was called the lel sheshe, and it included music, dancing, singing, and gifts of sweets for children. 

On this night, the sixth night after birth, women ornamented the mother with indigo and turmeric,  and sometimes with harquus, a black cosmetic, or darkened henna.  These traditions paralleled those for betrothal and marriage, the lel hinne, when the bride was adorned with henna.  The purpose of the lel sheshe ornamentation was specifically to protect the mother and son from Lilith, the queen of demons, who preyed upon women during their childbirth and lying-in period.  Lilith might steal the child (cause stillbirth or neonatal death), or kill the mother (maternal death during or after childbirth). 

Ornamenting the mother with indigo, harquus, and turmeric for the lel sheshe was called “rang kolekhila”, or, “dye they are making”.  First the midwife would strike the mother three times on the temples, saying “Depart Lilith!”.  The mother's female friends or family went to the dyer to get indigo and turmeric.  They painted blue, black, and yellow patterns on her face, her hands, her feet, and her vulva. They painted the infant with a little turmeric and indigo, or harquus.  They also painted the wall opposite the lying-in bed with these indigo and turmeric patterns. When the mother was painted,  the women protected themselves from Lilith by marking their own foreheads, hands and feet with blue, black and yellow patterns. 

When the painting was complete, the midwife put an amber necklace on the mother, and two more midwives came to sleep on either side of the mother overnight.  The infant was not allowed to sleep in its usual bed, but was held on women's laps all night. These traditions were kept most carefully for the firstborn son, and in households where other children had died.  Lilith especially desired firstborn children, and was feared in homes where she had previously taken children .

The Jews of Kurdistan
Erich  Brauer, completed and edited by Raphael Patai
Wayne State University Press, Detroit, 1993

The hand photographed above was stained with henna, indigo and turmeric
Want to know how to stain skin with turmeric and indigo?  Go here!