The Encyclopedia of Henna
The history and traditions of War and Henna
The Warrior's Wife
Calls the Henna Artist
for Victory or Suttee
Catherine Cartwright-Jones c 2004
Kent State University

A poet from Rajasthan, Suraya Malla Misran, wrote a couplet about a woman whose warrior husband was about to go into battle.  If her husband died in the conflict, her family would insist that she commit suttee.  She would comply, or she would spend the rest of her life without support, impoverished and alone.  A henna artist,  the Nai woman*, had come to her house to henna her feet and hands with henna.  The woman said, "No, not today.  My husband is going into battle, and may die.  Come back tomorrow, in case I need to henna for suttee."

Nayan, do not deck my feet today,
I hear tomorrow will be a fray.
You'll deck my feet with mehndi then,
If my lord gets killed in the affray.

This shows that henna accompanied suttee, the suicide of a living wife upon her dead husband's funeral pyre.

Another Indian poet, Sekhavat, wrote about a woman whose husband was also going into battle, but who did not simply wait for news from the battlefield.  He would return either victorious or dead. She would either join the  celebration or she would prepare to throw herself on his funeral pyre.  She asked the henna artist to henna her feet and hands for either possibility. 

"Nayan, you decorate me with rich colored mehndi right now,
as my Lord is leaving for the battle‑field.
If he comes back victorious I will celebrate the occasion with pomp and show,
or else, if he dies, I will perform suttee on his pyre.
Decorate my feet with mehndi rich!
O Nayan, my Lord has gone to battle.
When he comes home victorious I'll celebrate,
If he dies I'll perform suttee and settle"

*The Nai, or Nayan, caste was the caste of people who were barbers and henna artists.  They were low caste, because they touched people's hair and feet.  A Brahmin would wash himself after being shaved by a Nai, to remove the pollution from contact with them.  Upper caste people would not take water from a Nai's hands.

Pattern from Alex Morgan's book "Warrior"
Pattern from Alex Morgan's book, "Warrior"
patterns adapted from the weapons of war
Click on image for larger view  and more of her patterns!

Saksena, Jogendra
"Art of Rajasthan, Henna and Floor Decorations"
Sundeep Prakashan, Delhi

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*"Henna, the Joyous Body Art" 
the Encyclopedia of Henna
Catherine Cartwright-Jones c 2000 
registered with the US Library of Congress
TXu 952-968