pic: sonali sokal
Henna or Mehndi is a traditional form of body painting which uses a natural dye made from leaves of the Henna / Mehndi plant.
Henna or Mehndi is the leaf of the dwarf shrub that is dried and powdered, and then made into a paste. The plant grows in warm climates like the Indian sub-continent, parts of Africa and in Middle Eastern countries. Henna is intertwined with many intriguing traditions and cultures, dating as far back as Egypt during ancient times, where it was known to have been applied to the toes and fingers of the deceased Pharaohs before mummification. The paste is even used to ward off evil spirits.
The tradition of applying Henna traveled to the Indian Subcontinent from Arabia hundreds of years back, when the Muslim rulers came to rule in India. This remains an important part of culture in the Islamic belt that spreads from the Middle East and goes beyond to the Far East. It has flourished in the Subcontinent both under Muslim and Hindu rules for ages. In Indian subcontinent, a wedding is incomplete without a mehndi ceremony. Henna symbolises fertility, and at weddings, it depicts the love between a husband and wife.
Henna's traditional decorating purposes vary from culture to culture. The most popular traditional use is tied closely with bridal preparation, weddings and Eid. It is the night before Eid, when the auspicious crescent has been sighted, women pool together in their living rooms in an atmosphere of merriment to apply mehendi in intricate patterns on each other’s hands and feet.
In modern days, most often, the Henna paste is prepared with tea, coffee, lemon juice, sugar and clove oils to create different hues. Cones are commercially available for use as opposed to applying it with sticks, which make designs more detailed and intricate. Designs vary from country to country. Henna is also applied in a thick layer on the palms.