Alta (dye)

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A ceremony welcoming the newly wed bride to her new home, with the feet dipped in a mixture of milk and alta.

Alta or Mahawar or Rose Bengal is a red dye which women in India (specially Bengali,Odiya women in Eastern India) or Bangladesh apply with cotton on the border of their feet during marriages and religious festivals.[1] During Durga Puja many Bengali women put Alta on their feet.

In certain areas of India[which?] there is a tradition that after the wedding ceremony, when the bride enters her in-laws house for the first time, she steps in a plate of Alta before crossing the threshold with her right foot, leaving red footsteps behind her.[citation needed]

Alta was originally produced from lac though later it was replaced with synthetic dyes. The Oriya lexicon 'Purnachandra Bhashakosha'(1930s) describes how this lac-dye was prepared. For Hindus this has been a sacred dye known in Sanskrit as lakshya rasa.In 2000, Bikash Rath, a researcher from Odisha(India) noticed that the traditional lac artisans of his state could not even recall that alta was actually prepared from lac.In 2010 he wrote to the Indian Institute of Natural Resins & Gums(IINRG,formerly known as Lac Research Institute), Namkum, Ranchi for standardization of the clues available on natural alta making, so that the pure alta can be revived. Based on his request IINRG scientists have now developed two formulations for natural alta, the trials of which have been made at Regional Centre for Development Cooperation, Bhubaneswar. Both IINRG and RCDC are now working for the promotion of the original alta. Rath however cautions against the misconception that every lac dye is alta, because alta is for the purpose of applying on human skin (and hence it needs a more careful formulation) whereas there can be other lac dyes for other purposes such as textile dyeing.

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  1. ^ Garg, Gaṅgā Rām. (1992). Encyclopaedia of the Hindu world, Volume 2. p. 348.

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