Henna for Purim in Jewish Kurdistan

Sephardic Jews often used henna to celebrate holidays. Sephardic 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 celeb rational bath, on lei 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 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.

Jewish Patterns from Kurdish Folk Art by Alex Morgan

This book has over 50 patterns of beginning and intermediate level designs, with variants featuring two-tone shaded henna, turmeric and indigo!

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