'We were six sisters and two brothers in my family. I was the youngest. I used to paint my hands every festival. We gathered modhi from the garden and made the paste ourselves. I believe natural leaf henna is better than tube henna. My cousins and I would gather together at my house and enjoy a lot while appplying modhi.'
Mohdi, or henna, is a colorful expression of faith, identity and celebration. The bright vermillion natural dye, made from the smashed leaves of the henna plant, adorns the hands of Rohingya women and girls on their most special days, particularly weddings and the twice-yearly Islamic festivals known as Eid. On modhi night (on the eve of a Rohingya wedding), the bride’s friends and relatives gather at her home to beautify her hands and feet with modhi. It is a night of fun and sisterhood. Similarly, Rohingya women and girls celebrate the sighting of the new Eid moon by gathering to apply modhi. They say that, without the beloved modhi ritual, these celebrations would not be complete. Traditionally, the Rohingya women prepare the paste home, as the plants are found growing in wild in Arakan. After the leaves are plucked, they are ground with water and a few drops of lemon juice (to enhance color) into a thick green paste, using a mortar and pestle.
In the refugee camps, henna plants are scarce, so modhi must be purchased in tube form at the market, though the pre-made, packaged henna is less potent and the color does not last as long, so it is less preferred. The paste is applied on hands and feet, including fingers, toes and nails, in bold and intricate patterns. Flowers and vines are popular. The paste is washed off in a few hours, after the color sets. It lasts three to four weeks. In Islamic tradition, the prophet Mohammad is said to have used henna for a variety of purposes, including as a herbal remedy and a hair dye. Today, graying Rohingya men faithfully follow this example, dying their beards and hair bright orange with modhi. In addition, both the leaves and roots are used medicinally to treat ailments such as jaundice, enlargement of spleen, headache, diabetes and diarrhea.