This week Hindus all around the world will be celebrating the festival of Diwali. Our class thought it would be fun to use the opportunity to learn about the festival and Hindu culture.
With the help of some of the Hindu families in our community we gathered traditional clay pot candles to light, Indian sweet treats to try, and sari's for the children to wear. Nani, the grandmother of one of the students, came along to show us how to dress, and carry ourselves gracefully in the saris.
In preparation for the festival, some of the children decorated the entrance ways to our classroom with rangoli. These are intricate mandalas that are traditionally made on the ground from coloured powders mixed with rice flour or rice, and flowers. We used a mixture of flour and powder paint which we put into paper bags and cut the corner off so we could pour it neatly out.
Nani loved our rangoli and told us stories of the excitement they brought her as a child in her Indian village. She said all the children would wake up early on the first day of Diwali and run around the village to look at the beautiful rangoli outside each house.
The highlight of our Diwali work was of course the Handwork. Having previously studied henna designs and drawn some with pens, on hands made out of paper, we decided we wanted to try it for real.
Henna is a natural, plant based, dye that is mixed into a paste and piped on to skin - usually hands or feet. It then has to be left to dry for several hours before it is brushed off, leaving a brown/orange stain. The stain stays on the skin for anything from a few days to a few weeks. You can probably see why I was a little concerned about this!
I emailed the children's parents to get permission for them to use the henna and most were happy about it (a couple had upcoming family events as were worried about how the henna would look for this). We designated an area of the classroom for children to apply the henna and before we began I asked the children to make a plan for the time when the henna was drying and they were unable to use their hands. This done, I felt able to relax and let the children explore.
I printed off some examples of traditional henna patterns, including some geometric style ones to appeal to the boys, and the children organised themselves to take turns painting and being painted.
To begin with, the children were a little nervous about using the paste, but once one or two had the henna on their hands, everyone wanted a go.
We bought six henna cones (for a few dollars each) and found there was plenty for everyone.
The children found it hard to leave the henna on for more than an hour or so before getting fidgeting and brushing the paste off. It left a bright orange stain on their skin which darkened to a rich brown over night. They were all really happy with the results and enjoyed comparing the different shades and patterns on their skin the next day.
There is no question that using the real henna was a much more memorable and authentic experience compared to drawing the patterns on paper. The children will have beautifully patterned hands for at least a week and the festival of Diwali will always hold meaning for them.
Please don't be afraid to try this out with your class, it really is a wonderful experience!