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Mehndi

shantihhh's picture

 

Mehndi is the traditional art of henna painting in India, North Afrika,  and the Middle East.  You may see it written as mehandi, mehendi, mendhi, henna, al-henna, and a myriad other names and spellings.

Mehndi is the dried and powdered leaf of the dwarf shrub LAWSONIA INERMIS, a member of the Loosestrife family, Lythraceae, which grows to a height of about 2½-3m. A distilled water preparation used for cosmetic purposes is made from its small, sweet-smelling, pink, white and yellow flowers. It grows in hot climates and is supplied mainly from Arabia, Iran, Ceylon, India, Egypt, Pakistan and Sudan, though it may also come from China, Indonesia or the West Indies.

The green powder of the dried leaf is mixed with tea, coffee, sugar, lemon juice, eucalyptus and clove oils, and sometimes tamarind paste to a thick paste. Cones are more used today rather than sticks, and the are made out of polythene bags and used as one ices a cake. The skin is usually cleaned with rose or orange flower water then prepared with oil such as eucalyptus - sometimes a transfer is applied first.

The mehndi should be left on for at least 2 hours and preferably up to 8, to ensure the darkest colour possible. It can be kept damp with a mixture of sugar and lemon juice and crumbled off when ready. The pattern on the skin will be an orange-red colour but will darken to brown, and last several weeks depending on how often it is exposed to water. Moisturiser will help to retain it longer.

The history and origin of Henna is hard to trace with centuries of migration and cultural interaction it is difficult to determine where particular traditions began. There is very persuasive evidence that the Neolithic people in Catal Huyuk, in the 7th millennium BC, used henna to ornament their hands in connection with their fertility goddess.

The earliest civilizations to have used henna include the Babylonians, Assyrians, Sumerians, Semites, Ugaritics and Canaanites. The earliest written evidence that mentions henna specifically used as an adornment for a bride or woman's special occasion is in the Ugaritic legend of Baal and Anath, inscribed on a tablet dating back to 2100 BC, found in northwest Syria. Henna has also been used extensively in southern China and has been associated with erotic rituals for at least three thousand years, during the ancient Goddess cultures.

The use of Henna in the 4th-5th centuries in the Deccan of western India is clearly illustrated on Bodhisattvas and deities of cave wall murals at Ajanta, and in similar cave paintings in Sri Lanka. The evidence proves henna usage in India seven centuries before the Moghul invasion, and hundreds of years before the inception of the Islamic religion, which began in the mid-7th century AD.

The green powder of the dried leaf is mixed with tea, coffee, sugar, lemon juice, eucalyptus and clove oils, and sometimes tamarind paste to a thick paste. Cones are more used today rather than sticks, and the are made out of polythene bags and used as one ices a cake. The skin is usually cleaned with rose or orange flower water then prepared with oil such as eucalyptus - sometimes a transfer is applied first.

The mehndi should be left on for at least 2 hours and preferably up to 8, to ensure the darkest colour possible. It can be kept damp with a mixture of sugar and lemon juice and crumbled off when ready. The pattern on the skin will be an orange-red colour but will darken to brown, and last several weeks depending on how often it is exposed to water. Moisturiser will help to retain it longer.

Various shades are procured by mixing henna with the leaves and fruit of other plants, such as indigo, tea, coffee, cloves and lemon. The resulting paste is often used as a hair dye. During hot weather, henna acts as a cooling agent when applied to the palms of the hands and the bottoms of the feet. When used in decorative body art, sugar and oil are also added to the mixture to strengthen the color and longevity of design.

 

 Photo taken by Rajan Medhekar  of his neices' hands.

These are the intricately "Mehndi" (henna)-painted hands of  a bride. The "Mehndi" ceremony is a popular event (held a day or two before the wedding) in Indian marriages. The bride-to-be's female friends and the womenfolk of the house get their hands and feet decorated by "Mehndi" experts. There is a lot of singing, dancing and light ribbing of the bride-to-be and everyone has a great time!

Mehndi has great significance in all Eastern wedding traditions, and no wedding is complete without the decoration of the bride’s hands and feet - in many cultures on both the front and back of the hands right up to the elbow, and on the bottom half of the legs. The mehndi night is something like a hen night in the West, with all the bride’s female friends and relatives getting together to celebrate. They spend the evening singing traditional mehndi songs, which tell of he good luck and blessings that mehndi will bring, and of its significance with different in-laws.

Traditionally, the groom’s name is incorporated into the bride’s mehndi tattoos, and it is task to find it - which may take up to two hours. In some customs the bridegroom’s hands are also decorated, and communities in Kasmir and Bangladesh have evolved particular men’s designs. A current trend in the UK is for traditional patterns in the form of a ring or bracelet.

At Chokhi Dhaani near Jaipur. I loved the intent look on the child's face...

While henna is known by many names including Henne, Al-Khanna, Jamaica Mignonette, Egyptian Privet and Smooth Lawsonia, the art of its application is referred to as Henna (Arabic) or Medhi (Hindu).

Centuries of migration and cultural interaction make the task of determining henna's exact origin a complex one. However, historians argue that henna has been used for at least 5,000 years in both cosmetic and healing capacities.

Some researches argue henna originated in ancient India while others claim it was brought to India by Egyptian moghuls in the 12th century C.E. Still others will contend that the tradition of applying henna to the body began in the Middle East and North Africa in ancient times.

Archaeological research indicates henna was used in ancient Egypt to stain the fingers and toes of Pharaohs prior to mummification. But research also argues the Pharaohs were not the only Egyptians to use henna. Ancient Egyptians and many indigenous and aboriginal people around the world believed that the naturally derived red substances of ochre, blood and henna had qualities that improved human awareness of the earth's energies. It was therefore applied to help people keep in touch with their spirituality.

lovely islamic bride marrying a pakastani man
palm design by Riffat, top of hand an adaptation of that design.

Ani, a mummified scribe (1400BC), had fingernails stained with henna. There are also several medieval paintings depicting The Queen of Sheba decorated with henna on her journey to meet Solomon.

Heat makes the dye darker. Black stains are the result of additional dyes and compounds added to the paste. The henna stain will last until the top layer of the skin exfoliates. All skin on the body gradually exfoliates and is replaced by new skin in 1-12 weeks, depending on individual factors. The henna, then, will last as long as 8 weeks on the thick soles of your feet, or go away as quickly as 3-4 days on very thin parts of your skin.

There are three principal design styles in henna painting: firstly, the Arabic designs feature large patterns on the hands and feet; secondly, the Indian designs are more fine-lined and paisley patterned; and thirdly, the Sudanese designs are large and bold with geometric angles.

 This is one of the segments from the documentary 'Deypika's Wedding' by Vinod Kumar.

http://youtube.com/watch?v=Cn2qk-0ZHQs

Bridal Henna slide-show

 http://www.kenzi.com/HENNA/HTML/bridal.htm 

 

Mehndi refers to the decorative henna applied on women's hands and feet, particularly a bride's. Traditionally, the women from both the bride and groom's families get together on the evening when the bride's mehndi is applied to dance, sing and celebrate.

The bride's mehndi is said to signify the strength of love in the marriage: The darker the mehndi, the deeper the love. Also, as long as the mehndi doesn't fade, the new bride is excused from doing household chores. Thus brides try to keep the mehndi fresh and vibrant for as long as possible!

Pithi refers to a cleansing ceremony generally held the evening before the wedding, in which the bride and groom are rubbed with tumeric paste in a beautification process. It is believed that tumeric softens and whitens the skin, so the purpose of this ceremony is to help the bride and groom to be radiant for their wedding. Family members and friends often times have fun getting the bride and groom completely covered in the paste.

As a part of the pithi, family and friends also bless the couple with good luck (by dabbing their forehead with saffron), shiny hair (by anointing them with oil), prosperity (by giving money), abundance (by showering them with rice), and sweetness (by feeding them sugar).

The bride and groom's ceremonies are traditionally held separately at their respective homes, but for our purposes, we have combined them, and the Mehndi, into a single event.

In the Western part of the world it is being used as temporary tatoos:

But Mehndi decorations became trendy during the late ‘90s, beginning with Madonna’s “Ray of Light” video. And the queen of pop may have used more than simple henna to create the dark “ohm” symbol in her hand.



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6 Comments

vikash.kumar1's picture
Excellent and Beautiful blog. Henna plays a crucial role in Indian culture and considered auspicious.
Snigdha's picture
Excellent Blog and wonderful pictures. Also great info about the origin and tradition of the Mehendi ceremonies.
HotChef's picture
AMAZING and beautiful, very popular in London
payalm's picture
i loved it.
NLoveWithIndiaNKentucky's picture
So beautiful.... I want to run out and get mine done .
Radzie's picture
Also, you get those glittering mehndi, which accentuates the design. It is available in different shades like silver, golden, deep red, black and so on. Although, it can be a lil messy, it's good to see and adds life to the design.