Indian Henna Designs Definations
Mehndi (also spelled mehendi or mehandi) is a popular decoration for the skin, usually on hands and feet, in Southeast and Soutwest Asia and North Africa. Henna paste is made from the leaves of the lawsonian inermis plant, also called henna or hina, a tall shrub or tree two to six meters in height (see picture below). The henna leaves are first dried, then pounded and sifted until they become a very fine powder, which is mixed with a bit of water and kneaded until it becomes a paste.
How to Apply Mehendi Paste
Henna paste used to be applied with matchsticks or toothpicks to achieve the intricate designs. Today, it comes in a ready-made paper or plastic cone whose tip is cut open and the henna paste applied by squeezing it out from the top (see picture below). The smaller the opening, the more intricate the designs. Needless to say, applying mehndi takes steady hands and a good knowledge of popular henna patterns and designs.
In India, where demand can get quite high during peak times like weddings and big religious festivals like Diwali, most beauty salons offer henna applications. But many women, called henna girls because of their young age, also specialize in henna designs and will come to one’s home to apply the mehndi patterns.
Once applied, the moist, dark brown paste will soon dry up and become light brown. It can then simply be brushed off but for best results, contact with water should be avoided as long as possible. On areas like the palms, where this is hardly possible for more than two hours, mehndi designs tend to fade the fastest.
The Henna Tradition
Henna has a long tradition and one of the earliest proofs are statuettes of young women with henna-like markings dating from around 1500 BC. They have been found along the Mediterranean coastline, indicating the connection of henna and fertile young women until the present day.
Henna has also long been used in ayurvedic medicines because of its cooling properties and is considered an anti-irritant and antiseptic. Even a henna plant’s fragrant white flowers are used to make perfumes. Applying mehndi is therefore risk free as the paste is completely natural and temporary; the designs will fade away on their own after about two weeks.
The term henna tattoo might be more commercially viable but is misleading as it implies permanence. Careful of any products advertised as “black henna” as most likely, the synthetic dye PPD (also found in some hair dyes) has been added to give the mehndi design a more tattoo-like, black appearance. PPD can cause allergic reactions.
The Mehndi Ceremony and Bridal Mehndi
Two or three days before wedding ceremonies in India, the Indian bride gathers her female relatives for the mehndi ceremony, where everyone’s hands and feet are decorated with henna designs. The bride’s mehndi patterns are the most elaborate as it is supposed to bring her good luck in her new life as a married woman.
Waiting for her mehndi to dry allows the Indian bride to relax before the hectic wedding and to be waited on hand and foot, literally. This is also the chance for the bride to clear any doubts about married life and to receive ample advice on the matter. The mehndi ceremony is a joyous get-together that unites friends and relatives and friends. Makes henna nights not so different from hen nights, does it?