There is something mesmerizing about mehndi and its no
wonder that the ancient form of hand and feet painting has captivated
many in the West. Its in the intricate designs that take hours
to create, the deep crimson color which shines clearly on the skin,
the earthy aroma that fills the air
see for yourself.
Fashion is a funny thing.
It allows an age-old tradition to suddenly become trendy and hip.
Such is the case for the recent craze that has colored the West in
the form of mehndi, more popularly known as henna. Its cool,
its ethnic, its hip. The demand for Mehndi supplies and
do-it-yourselfkits is coming from all corners of the globe, including
the U.S., Canada and countries all over Europe. There is even a Henna
Page Discussion Forum on the Internet, where curious minds can ask
questions and share stories about the art.
Intrigued by the creation
of beautiful designs on the body, henna is being used by women
worldwide as a mode of self-expression. But tell a person from the
Indian sub-continent that mehndi is hip and they will look at you
with bewilderment, because the art has been a part of their culture
for centuries. More than just attractive designs, the use of mehndi
is intimately connected to the tradition and culture of India.
Actually, the first
tracings of henna were found in North Africa, on the hands of
Egyptian mummies, dating back to the year 5000 B.C. It was believed
that applying henna to the hands and feet would ward off evil. In
India, the use of henna has its beginnings in the northern part of
the country, during the 12th century when it was
introduced by the Mughal rulers.
Mehndi became most
familiar when Rajasthani women started using it as a symbol of art
and design. Similar to the tradition of ceremonial floor painting in
Rajasthan, known as mandana, mehndi uses motifs from ancient
history, including the folk tales and mythology of India. Numerous
folk songs and proverbs also exist about mehndi.
As a symbol of prosperity
and good fortune, mehndi continues to play a major role in modern
Indian society, particularly during important occasions like
weddings. Even today, a special day is allotted in an Indian
marriage for the application of henna on the bride, as well as family
members and friends. It is yet another example of how modern Indian
society has carried on an ancient popular tradition. But mehndi is
not exclusive to weddings, in fact, it is used on numerous occasions,
like Holi, Diwali, Rakshabandhan, Teej and Nagpanchami.
The designs originate
from the practices followed on these occasions and represent specific
objects, dresses, floral designs, leaves, flowers and birds
associated with the festival. Popular designs include the scorpion,
a symbol of love and romance in Rajasthan, as well as the peacock,
the lotus flower and the fish.
Mehndi has a special role
during Karva Chauth, celebrated mostly in North India in the month of
October. On this occasion, women take the day off, apply mehndi,
dress in their wedding clothes and fast for the well-being of their
husbands until they see the moon at night. Although the art is used
primarily for decoration today, the use of mehndi is expressive of a
distinct culture and bond that is created between women on such
occasions. Different emotions and characteristics of their lives can
be seen in the art work and the designs themselves reveal many
sublime aspects of womens culture.
No doubt, the henna craze
in the West will die out in due course, just as all fads do. But in
India, the art will remain a part of the cultural tradition that has
thrived in the country for centuries.
Henna is made from the
leaves of the shrub for which it is named after. The red dye is
extracted from the leaves and twigs of the henna shrub, found in not
climate regions of the world like India, the Middle East and North
Africa. The shrub is then ground into a powder, and mixed with hot
water to from a dark green paste. In order to make intricate designs
on the hands and feet, the paste is packed in a cone for easy
Although henna has been
marketed in the West as a quick and easy way of tattooing,
it is more accurately a form of staining or painting, since the dye
is temporary and usually lasts 12 days. Application of henna is a
serious art, taking hours to create exclusive designs. But
experimentation with designs by a novice can also be extremely
rewarding. Two distinct styles have emerged, one more geometrical,
using straight lines and triangles, the other more creative,
expressive and imaginative.
There are two varieties
of mehndi, Hina Menhadi and Rajani. Of the two, Rajani is the
variety know for its fragrance and shining bright color. The minute
and more intricate designs require the use of this finer quality
Apart from decoration,
henna is used as a dye for hair and for healing sores. During the
hot Indian summers, henna also acts as cooling agent when applied to
the palm of the hands and the soles of the feet.