Henna for Purim in Jewish Kurdistan: 
The Bath of the Maidens
copyright Catherine Cartwright-Jones c 2003
Kent State University

Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews often used henna to celebrate holidays.  Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews celebrated a night of the henna as early as 1000 BCE, and the tradition continues in some communities unbroken through the present.  Purim was one of the Jewish religious holidays that regularly included henna. 

Purim is a Jewish holiday celebrating Queen Esther's bravery in rescuing the Jewish people from a plan to massacre them .  Esther risked her own life to speak to Ahasuerus, King of Persia, and successfully pleaded with him to save the Jews. Kurdish Purim celebrates the beauty of brides, maidens and beautiful young women, paralleling  Esther's bridal beautification .  The Jews of Kurdistan  included henna in many of their social and religious celebrations into the early part of the 20th century, and Kurdish Jewish girls hennaed for Purim. 

Jewish girls' second celebrational bath, on lel purim (Purim eve),  is meant to make the maidens as beautiful for Purim as Esther was when she appeared for King Ahsaureus.  This bath was called khiyapit benatha, ase ileni shiprit Ister, "Bath of the maidens, may the beauty of Esther come to us".  The girls go to the house of a rich man, the prettiest girl prepares and brings the henna.  Their mothers go with them.  The group sings De mesulu, "Come now, bring", and all the girls have their hands and feet ornamented with henna. 

After the hennaing, the mothers bathe their daughters, and sing narike, as if they were singing to a bride.  The mothers then shower their hennaed bride-like daughers, made beautiful as Esther, with roses and nuts.

Cakes and cookies are favorite Purim treats.  In Sulaimani, children especially enjoyed kalda cookies, shaped and decorated like brides.

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

Web resource for Purim

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