Friday 21 June 2013

RFW June Weddings

June.  The end of spring, the start of summer.  The last bit of the transition.  I always feel the seasonal cusps more than the seasons, and this one’s been a bit hectic.  So I am glad of the chance to get back to Romantic Friday Writers, where exciting changes are afoot and the challenges get more sumptuous with each passing month. Who doesn’t love weddings, or prizes? Only I am stuck in some sort of medieval melodrama mode which I keep stumbling back to, can’t seem to snap out of it. And I seem to have lost whatever little grip I had on word counts too :) so I guess that rules me out of the race, but I’d still love your critiques!


A bit about the context – henna tattoos are applied to the hands of brides in many parts of North India. An ancient tradition still observed today, the designs very elaborate, very beautiful!  It is commonly held that the deeper the colour sets on the bride’s palms the more deeply she will be loved by her groom.  The Indian Hindu wedding ceremony at its core consists of vows made in the presence of the sacred fire-god, Agni-dev, and sealed with sacrifices and libations.


Here is my entry for the challenge:
Hennaed hands

The groom’s name had been hennaed, hidden, discreet
within the exquisite design the bride wore,
and the women joked they’d bar the bridal suite
they’d allow him in, only open the door
if he could find in her hands something his own;
else he’d have to spend the night outside alone.


The bride flushed and looked away, then anxiously
sneaked a look at her palm, would he find his name?
Oh, it was done too fine, this filigree;
it wouldn’t do, she’d never live down the shame!
She cursed the henna-woman, and the age-old jokes
played on bridal couples by rowdy womenfolk.


The wedding was quite out of the common run,
it’s not every day that a princess weds;
and this one was a brave heart, a young woman
who could ride and fence and drop her enemies dead
at thousand paces with her unerring aim
and in her hennaed hand was her groom’s name.


The Senapati’s son, Samir – beloved of the gods,
his eyes blazing coals, his skin, dark and tanned,
sheathed a supple body keen-edged like a sword
and his was the name hennaed on her hand
and his the face on her throbbing heart tattooed.
They had trained and played together since childhood.




First met when she was six and he was eight,
at the royal armoury choosing their bows.
Together they learnt to shoot their arrows straight;
they fenced and parried and evaded deadly blows,
they honed their arms and their weapon skills
to a fearsome point able to defend and kill.


There were other children there, but somehow these two -
the young, fearless boy and the little princess
formed a natural team when they were required to,
then fought duels amongst themselves with ferociousness,
relished a deep friendship off mock battlefields,
and on them fought to win, to make the other yield.


She dealt him a blow one day in a late teen year
the wound too shallow to do any lasting harm;
his blood made her drop her blade and some strange fear
unnerved her heart and petrified her sword arm.
The cut was his, but hers felt the painful sting
and a poignant epiphany that only love can bring.


The days went on and he came back, his wound healed
and she who was whole never again felt whole,
she thrust and parried in the arena, rode the fields
with the same ruthlessness and superb control,
but distracted, she slipped whenever Samir was close,
she never dealt him anymore those hard blows.




They fought one day paired again in a free-for-all
and a weapon point flashed too near Samir’s face;
she turned pale, and intervened with a concerned call,
her demeanour, and the words, left no trace
of doubt and so finally she stood revealed
and he knew her yearning heart in that field.


He didn’t speak, but his coal-black blazing eyes
burnt a hotter flame, a sparking, leaping light
pared his soul during an arms exercise
and awakened to love through sudden insight;
and so the two who were once childhood friends
came to be lovers suddenly at its end.


The king was pleased to bless their union
for the Senapati was a friend both noble and staunch,
the two old men had seen many battles won.
And so  the palace hung garlands and blew the conch;
and so the henna-woman piped paisley designs
and hid Samir’s name within the saffron lines.




Seven vows the groom made to his princess bride
and sealed the pledge with libations for entire life,
seven circles around the sacred fireside
their garment ends knotted tight as man and wife,
palm upward, within it his hennaed name
she gave him her hand before the holy flame.


The news came a lightning bolt from the blue
the messenger ran panicked in disarray -
a rebel attack on the fringe, what to do?
they must be stopped at all cost without delay!
The old king left to strategise and oversee
and he was followed closely by his Senapati.


The shehnai took on a newly mournful strain,
Samir undid the bridal knot and laid it flat,
“Princess, you will understand I cannot remain
while our fathers lead soldiers into combat.
My darling, please let me go with them now,
I’ll come back to you if the gods allow.”


The merry pace of a happy wedding band
the fates can flip in an hour to battle march -
a groom came at dusk to claim a hennaed hand
and left a soldier ready to face the enemy charge;
his bride watched him go, her heart aflame
and tight her fist gripped around his hennaed name.




Battles end, soldiers return, lovers reunite
but none return the same, they come back scarred,
and Samir of the blazing eyes, coal-dark and bright,
returned at last after the gods treated him hard;
six slow days and nights he rode on his horse
held steady by kind men on homeward course.


The henna-woman wept aloud, the rest too shocked
eyed his many grievous wounds on breast and thighs;
just one whisper rose and fluttered, then was choked,
“Alas, Samir of the blazing coal-black eyes!”
Wordless his bride the princess stood and gazed
disbelieving, at his eyes that no more blazed.


She looked at him then at her hands hennaed deep,
the designs refreshed every day since he’d left
and still she didn’t speak, nor did she weep,
though one by one her women lost control and wept,
“Alas, O Samir, beloved of the gods!
Their love counts for nothing at the point of swords.


“And how will he find his name written on his bride
and who will press his warm lips to that pulsing spot?”
The bride meanwhile drew a dagger from her side,
and held the point to a torch till glowing hot.
On deeply hennaed hand she branded his name
with scorching steel, in letters of blood and flame.


“Yours the name, my love, my hand will always bear,
trace the blood and find yourself in my palm;
and in its corded burn scars too you’ll be there.
Beloved, I‘ll be your eyes and your weapon arm.
Women, hurry, now open and deck the rooms -
he’s found his name, and tonight I have my groom.”

WC  - 1049

Senapati - Defence chief (Sena=army, pati=master/lord)

shehnai - a flute-like instrument played during weddings



  1. Wow! beautiful, almost of epic proportions.
    I had goosebumps...

  2. That was an awesome saga. Gripping through and through. My nose was so close to the screen to soak up every word. I am not familiar with poetry, so I don't know if you could have cut 49 words or not without sacrificing symmetry or rhythm. But I loved it. That was quite a love story. Thanks for explaining what hennaed is. You used the concept well in the writing. Such a rich culture described within the prose.

    Thanks for participating with RFW this month Nilanjana. That was a beautiful romance.


    1. Hi Donna, and thanks much for the chance to participate in the fun, and for the critique.

      The only way I can think of shortening ballad-like poems is to lop off stanzas as a whole, can't really shorten the line-lengths too much. Here it's all 10-12 syllables to a line, and changing that suddenly to say 7-8 would change the 'texture' of the whole thing. I did get rid off three stanzas which were mostly descriptive, but these rest advance the story and can't be lopped off without the poem sounding disjointed. Just FYI :)

      And if you want to read about the henna ritual here is a link:

  3. A whole beautiful story in a poem. Lovely.

  4. Hello Nilanjana, you clever girl. I absolutely soak up anything I can learn from another culture, and I take this is another era, also, very medieval. I'm familiar with the hennaed bride...have seen it done in Morocco and have read articles about it. Fascinating. You've made it a strong central motif to your saga. What power and passion is contained in your 1049 words.

    As always, I will return, as this is too much to take in in one reading. You wield a mighty strong pen.


  5. Oh, and the knife at the end had shades of Charmaine's ending, though completely opposite in one way.

    1. Hi Denise, and thanks much for the feedback. The application of henna is actually a Vedic ritual, probably dating back three millennia or so. Henna is thought to be auspicious as is turmeric, both are used in wedding and also other religious rituals, they both have medicinal properties as well. It travelled to Middle East and parts of Africa with the Omani traders and got assimilated into their culture as well. No sword-wielding prince and princesses in modern day India, so this one is set in medieval times.

      And you've got me thoroughly intrigued about Charmaine's story now, will be out reading the entries from tomorrow.

  6. Such wonderful writing, the story is told well, it is powerful and emotional, you brought the reader into the reality of the times effortlessly. The theme of his eyes running through the story becomes so very poignant at the end.

  7. I too had goose bumps, this was lovely and sad but uplifting at the same time! Truly a wonderfully told story. I marvel at your talent, always!

    1. Thank you, for the feedback and the support, much appreciated.

  8. Nilanjana, back again. I saw so much more this time. What a powerful love story beginning in childhood and continuing into a future with many challenges ahead. Samir and his princess. What a lovely story, penned so well by the poetess.

    Thank you for enriching us all with your powerful stories...


    1. Thank you Denise. Glad you enjoyed the poem. As you say, the challenge for this love story lies ahead.

  9. June 27th, 2013

    Dear Nilanjana,

    Awesome epic tale! Beautifully penned.
    Best wishes,

    Anna's RFW - June Wedding

  10. Dear Nilanjana,
    Thanks for the link to your cat story about Christmas eve. What an amazing story. I love it. It's sad, yes, but it shows a connection between the woman and the cat. The cat knew that the man should have picked her up earlier.

    Does the woman, Eve, die? Or can the man drive to the bus stop and save her thanks to the cat? (But how can the cat explain this to the stupid man?) Maybe the bus stop is so close that the cat can run out toward it in the snow, with the man following after.

    No matter. Your story is superbly written. Haunting.
    Best wishes & hugs,