Today, it’s been half a decade since I got married and in true beauty junkie fashion, what I remember most about the wedding are those long, lush and totally indulgent hair and skincare rituals that I got to enjoy as a to-be bride in a culture that elevates its beauty heritage to a ceremonial pedestal.
My hair has never looked so shiny and full of life – the spicy, woodsy aroma wafting out whenever I turned my head being an added bonus!
After the mehndi, some of the most important beauty customs at an Indian wedding centre around the bride’s tresses – and while the whole amla-reetha-shikakai (where the hair is oiled and washed with a mixture of powdered herbs and fruits) was too messy and time consuming for my liking, there was one ritual that stands out in memory as one of the most decadent and sensual “blow dries” I have ever received. It started with a karandi – a long-handled iron pot – which is filled with burning coals that are sprinkled with all sorts of fragrant herbs and spices, including nutmeg, saffron, vetiver, cloves and lotus seeds. To this were added a couple of teaspoons of sandalwood powder and a handful of jasmine petals, so the smoke of the coals became extremely fragrant.
It starts with a long-handled iron pot, which is filled with burning coals that are sprinkled with all sorts of fragrant herbs and spices. Hair is dried over the wafting steam, which unclogs the pores, carrying the healing, rejuvenating effect deep into the follicles
The smoking vessel was then kept under a low cane table and my hair was spread out over the table’s loosely woven surface through which the smoke wafted upwards and dried out my tresses. It was really mild, so there was no over-heating of the scalp; plus, it dried the hair slowly, so the ends didn’t become brittle and were left beautifully glossy and fragranced. And that was just the outward effects – apparently, the steam also unclogs the pores, carrying the healing, rejuvenating effect of the herbs deep into the hair follicles. All I know is that my hair has never looked so shiny and full of life – the spicy, woodsy aroma wafting out whenever I turned my head being an added bonus!
Several months later, while reading Almond Eyes, Lotus Feet, I came across a beautiful version of this ritual, which is easier to replicate in today’s times:
“There was a special basket which had fairly big holes – it wasn’t a closely woven basket – and this was covered with a pink cloth. Why pink, I don’t know. We lay down with our hair spread over this basket and they lit loban incense in a little burner called an ood-daan. The charcoal was put in this and in it the loban; and we had to lie on a rug on the floor till the hair dried. The fragrance lasted a whole week… the basket for drying our hair was part of our wedding trousseau.”
I know of women from the olden times, who would use no perfume – just scent their hair this way every time they washed it – and everything about them was always fragrant with this spicy, floral, woodiness. Surely, no beauty parlour or hair iron can compete with such decadence!