Known for its entrancing, deep burnt-red stain, the world famous Sojat Mehndi of Rajasthan got its due on September 14. We explore its harvesting, manufacturing and various art and medicinal forms — as well as the issue of adulteration
“Our women apply it on their hands and even our men put it on their fingertips,” says Mukesh Heerani, whose family has been in the mehndi business since it began in 1969. “Mehndi has been our lifeline for generations and the new GI (Geographical Indication) status for Sojat Mehndi will only increase its brand value and the customer’s faith in us.”
Mukesh, who is a fourth-generation producer, set up Brite Henna Products in 1985 and processes five tons of mehndi per day into packs that range from of 10-gram to one-kilogram packets.
The entire town of Sojat by the river Sukri in Rajasthan is celebrating this new-found value to their homegrown mehndi, which is sought after by Bollywood stars like Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Priyanka Chopra, for their wedding ceremonies. The town’s population — almost 1.25 lakh people — comprising 150 “big and small” farmers, traders, manufacturers and labourers depend on mehndi farming valued at 1000 crore.
What is GI tag?
- A geographical indication (GI) is a sign used on products that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation that are due to that origin.
- It is administered by the Controller General of Patents, Designs and Trade Marks, who is the Registrar of Geographical Indications.
- 2020 and 21 GI tag acquisitions include Kashmir saffron (Jammu & Kashmir), Khola chilli (Goa), Judima rice wine (Assam) and Edayur chilli and Kuttiattoor mango (Kerala).
“We will get pure unadulterated henna from now,” says an overjoyed Vikas Tak, member of the Sojat Mehndi Vyapar Sangh Samiti and one of the persons behind the GI status accorded to Sojat Mehndi on September 14. Explaining the exclusivity of Sojat Mehndi, Vikas says, “it gets its special colour due to the soil and rain conditions of the region. The mehndi leaves have 2% more of the pigment lawsone than leaves grown elsewhere.”
How it’s made
Kamlesh Tak of Taj Henna products explains the process of manufacturing: “we pick up sacks of 40 kilograms from the wholesale market. These leaves are then separated and the waste consisting of seeds and stems is used to make low-grade mehndi powder. The good leaves are pulversied and filtered a couple of times to get the fine mehndi powder.” Kamlesh says that mehndi is grown in Pakistan and West Asian countries and in other states but does not have this unique colour.
One of the biggest challenges is adulteration. “There is no black mehndi,” says Vikas, explaining that chemicals like PPD (paraphenylenediamine) and Benzyl Alcohol are added to give the dark tint. “These are harmful and we hope that the GI tag will help in bringing an end to this menace.”
The bigger fallout of the GI status, according to him, is that it “will help raise our exports and hopefully bring this on the list of agricultural commodities so that we can negotiate with the government on MSP and insurance for the crop.”
Mehndi paste known for its cooling effect is applied on soles and on the head as part of traditional medicine. It is also used in Ayurvedic preparations. “I do not know any mehndi other than Sojat,” says Dev Nayak who set up a mehndi designing concern in Thane 15 years ago and has 20 young men working with him as designers. The trend of male mehndi designers, he says, began three decades ago. “Earlier we had men block printing the stains on hands during melas or fairs.”
Mehndi designer Shirin Areekkan, who runs her services under the brand Ams Henna in Ernakulam, says that Sojat Mehndi is triple filtered and therefore smooth and easy to use. “It gives the best colour, which is why it is most sought after” Shirin makes her own mehndi paste and says that the current trend of 3D designs in Mehndi is revolutionary. Yet Indian and Arabian designs remain strong for weddings.
Meanwhile, all the stakeholders of the industry, which is still finding its footing, are elated that this distinction has finally got their product a premium value.