Henna – A Beautiful History
Mehndi is an ancient form of body art, using extracts of henna (derived from Sanskrit word ‘mendhikā’ for ‘henna plant’) to create decorative designs (usually in red or brown tones) on a person’s skin.
The first people known to use Mehndi were the Mughals, who introduced it to India during 12th century AD, although it’s thought that the practice was used earlier in Egypt (Egyptian mummies show evidence of Mehndi). But it was in India where it became fashionable among the rich and regal who used it to create ever more intricate patterns created by highly skilled Mehndi artists.
The colourful, mesmerizing, Mehndi patterning prevalent in India today emerged in the 20th century and, today, no Indian wedding is complete without the ritual of Mehndi when the hands of the bride are enhanced with the stunning, intricate displays of red henna ink.
As time went on, different cultures migrating throughout the world took the art form of Mehndi with them, evolving the designs and techniques used along the way.
A Tradition Of Celebration
Henna is traditionally used for special occasions such a feast days, national and religious holidays, birthdays and important family celebrations, such as weddings – particularly in India, Africa, Pakistan and the Middle East.
Perhaps the most popular of these traditions is the Mehndi (henna) Night where the bride, family and friends get together to celebrate with games, music and dance performances that can be rehearsed for months prior to the event. While this is all taking place, the bride has these intricate henna patterns crafted on her hands and limbs up to the elbows and sometimes to the knees. It’s a complex procedure can take many hours and is often carried out by multiple Mehndi artists. Occasionally, the guests will also receive small Mehndi designs on the backs of their hands, so they can share the experience with the bride and become immersed in the event.
In some cultures, wedding Mehndi has gained such significance that brides-to-be have their design-work completed before the traditional Mehndi night, so they can enjoy the festivities on the evening and benefit from a deeper stain come the wedding day (an old tradition dictates that as long the Mehndi stain lasts, the bride is exempt from housework and the stronger the marriage will be).