Alta, also known as Mahawar and Rose Bengal, is a red coloured dye applied by women in India and Bangladesh. Unlike its popular counterpart Henna, Alta originated in India and was obtained from lac. Before the prevalence of Henna, Hindu women in India applied Alta on their hands and feet especially before auspicious occasions such as marriages, elaborate prayer ceremonies, religious festivals and during classical dance performances. In the present day, the use of Alta is typically limited to east Indian states such as Bengal, Orissa and Bihar as well as in certain South Indian communities.
In certain areas and communities, it is a custom for women to apply Alta on their feet on particular religious occasions such as Durga Puja, Teej, Jitiya etc. Classical Indian dancers, ranging from the Bharatnatyam performers of the south to the Kathak dancers in the north, adorn their hands and the borders of their feet with Alta before any major performance.
The design patterns of Alta are simple contrary to the elaborate Mehendi designs, and although it has lost its popularity in day to day life with the masses, some women still opt to use this dye over henna for its simple yet bright look.