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Mehndi or "Mehendi" is a form of body art from Ancient India, in which decorative designs are created on a person's body, using a paste, created from the powdered dry leaves of the henna plant (Lawsonia inermis). Ancient in origin, mehndi is still a popular form of body art among the women of the Indian Subcontinent, Africa and the Middle East.
Mehndi is derived from the Sanskrit word mendhikā. The use of mehndi and turmeric is described in the earliest Hindu Vedic ritual books. It was originally used for only women's palms and sometimes for men, but as time progressed, it was more common for men to wear it. Haldi (staining oneself with turmeric paste) as well as mehndi are Vedic customs, intended to be a symbolic representation of the outer and the inner sun. Vedic customs are centered on the idea of "awakening the inner light". Traditional Indian designs are representations of the sun on the palm, which, in this context, is intended to represent the hands and feet.
There are many variations and types in mehndi designs which are categorized, such as Arabic mehndi designs, Indian mehndi designs, and Pakistani mehndi designs. Women usually apply variations of henna or mehndi design patterns on their hands and feet.
While there is some controversy over the origins of the use of henna leaf powder as a dying agent, the earliest clear evidence of henna powder application on the body appears in Egyptian mummies whose hair and nails were stained with the reddish brown tones of henna. Botanists believe the henna plant, Lawsonia inermis, originated in Egypt and was carried regularly to India where it was used since at least 700 AD for decorating hands and feet. Historically henna has also been used for medicinal purposes, to dye cloth and leather as well as hair, to color the manes of horses and the fur of other animals.
Practiced mainly in the Indian Subcontinent, mehndi is the application of a temporary form of skin decoration, popularized in the West by Indian cinema and the entertainment industry, the people in Nepal, Bangladesh and the Maldives also use mehndi. Mehndi decorations became fashionable in the West in the late 1990s, where they are called henna tattoos.
Mehndi in Indian tradition is typically applied during special Hindu weddings and Hindu festivals like Karva Chauth, Vat Purnima, Diwali, Bhai Dooj and Teej. In Hindu festivals, many women have Henna applied to their hands and feet and sometimes on the back of their shoulders too, as men have it applied on their arms, legs, back, and chest. For women, it is usually drawn on the palm, back of the hand and on feet, where the design will be clearest due to contrast with the lighter skin on these surfaces, which naturally contain less of the pigment melanin. Some Muslims in the Indian subcontinent also apply Mehndi during festivals such as Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Adha.
In the modern age and even due to limited supply of Indian Traditional Mehndi artists, usually people buy ready-made Henna cones, which are ready to use and make painting easy. However, in rural areas in India, women grind fresh henna leaves on grinding stones with added oil, which though not as refined as professionally prepared henna cones, achieves much darker colors.
Likely due to the desire for a "tattoo-black" appearance, some people add the synthetic dye p-Phenylenediamine (PPD) to henna to give it a black colour. PPD may cause severe allergic reactions and was voted Allergen of the Year in 2006 by the American Contact Dermatitis Society.
Mehndi is a ceremonial art form which originated in the ancient Indian subcontinent. It is typically applied during weddings - for brides. In Rajasthan, the grooms are given designs that are often as elaborate as those for brides. In Assam, apart from marriage, it is broadly used by unmarried women during Rongali bihu.
Muslims in Afghanistan also started to use it as an indication of coming of age. In the Middle East and Africa, it is common for women to apply henna to their fingernails and toenails and to their hands.
Henna paste is usually applied on the skin using a plastic cone, a paint brush or a stick. After about 15–20 minutes, the mud will dry and begin to crack, and during this time, a mixture of lemon juice and white sugar can be applied over the henna design to remoisten the henna mud so that the henna will stain darker. The painted area is then wrapped with tissue, plastic, or medical tape to lock in body heat, creating a more intense colour on the skin. The wrap (not a traditional method), is worn for two to six hours, or sometimes overnight, and then removed. When first removed, the henna design is pale to dark orange in colour and gradually darkens through oxidation, over the course of 24 to 72 hours. The final color is reddish brown and can last anywhere from one to three weeks depending on the quality and type of henna paste applied, as well as where it was applied on the body (thicker skin stains darker and longer than thin skin). Moisturizing with natural oils, such as olive, sesame seed, or coconut, will also help extend the lifetime of the stain. Skin exfoliation causes the henna tattoo to fade.
Mehndi in Weddings
Traditional Hindu or Sikh weddings in India can often be long, ritualistic, and elaborate affairs with many pre-wedding, wedding and post wedding ceremonies. Different countries and regions of a country celebrate the ceremonies in different ways according to their own marriage customs, rituals, and culture.
According to Hindu tradition, the ceremony is mainly held at the bride's house or at a banquet hall on the eve of the marriage ceremony or few days before the marriage. Generally the bride and groom attend the event together and on the occasion a professional mehndi artist or a relative applies mehndi to the bride's hands and feet. The designs are very intricate. Often hidden within the mehndi pattern the name or initials of the groom are applied. The event generally has a celebratory festival feel to it with the women dancing and singing traditional songs and the girls wearing vivid colors such as hot pink and yellow, often if the bride to be wishes to tease her future groom she will make him wear purple. The groom usually wears jutti instead of western footwear.
In Pakistan, the Mehndi is often one of the most important pre-wedding ceremonies, which is celebrated mainly by the bride's family. In Bangladesh, the Mehndi ceremony has traditionally been separated into two events; one organized by the bride's family and one, by the groom's family. Mehndi ceremonies take place outside India, Pakistan and Bangladesh amongst the South Asian community and places like Birmingham in the UK are such known hotspots for lavish Mehndi celebrations.
- A dictionary of Urdu, classical Hindi, and English. Dsal.uchicago.edu. Retrieved on 2011-09-26.
- "Arabic Mehndi Designs". Life with Style. Retrieved 31 December 2013.
- "Indian Mehndi Designs". fashionsrunway.com. Retrieved 9 January 2014.
- "Mehndi Designs for Hands". Fashions Town. Retrieved 16 May 2014.
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