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 including Arabic, Indian and Pakistani designs. Women usually apply mehndi designs to their hands and feet, though some, including cancer patients and women with alopecia occasionally decorate their scalps. The standard color of henna is brown, but other design colors such as white and gold are sometimes employed.
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. A henna party is a tradition held before a wedding in many Middle Eastern and North African cultures. Henna parties were often held in the house that the bride was going to live in, and the guests included girls and women from the bride and groom’s side of the family. The bride and all of her guests wore embroidered dresses called “binalli.” In addition to this, the bride also wore a red veil that covered her face.
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 ceremony is referred to Rasm-e-Heena and is often one of the most important pre-wedding ceremonies, which is celebrated 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.
Example of a wedding tradition
The henna, a dye produced from a henna plant, would be delivered by the groom’s relatives on a silver tray containing two burning candles. Before the application of the henna, the guests would throw coins over the bride’s head as a symbol of fertility. Then, the bride’s soon to be mother-in-law would then bring out a piece of silk cloth as a gift to the bride. The bride would then walk along the unrolled piece of silk cloth in the direction of her future mother-in-law and kiss her hand.
Once this is done, fruits, nuts, and pastries would be brought out and songs would be sung in hopes of making the bride cry. This was done because it was thought that the bride’s crying would bring good luck. The bride would then sit on a cushion while her mother-in-law placed a gold coin in her hand as another sign of good luck. Once the bride was given the gold coin, the henna would be applied.
The person who applied the henna was always someone who was already known to be happily married; that person would apply the henna onto the bride’s palms, fingers, and toes. The henna was made from died henna leaves, and the process of application took a long time. For this reason, it was suggested that it be applied between thirty-two and forty-eight hours before the wedding so that it may have enough time to stain the skin. In addition to the bride, all unmarried persons at the henna party would also apply the henna to their hands, believing that it would allow them to be married soon as well.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Mehndi.|
- A dictionary of Urdu, classical Hindi, and English. Dsal.uchicago.edu. Retrieved on 2011-09-26.
- "The Beautiful and Intricate Application of Bridal Henna". The Spruce. Retrieved 19 August 2018.
- "Henna Party". www.turkishculture.org. Retrieved 19 August 2018.