Mehndi Art: The Ancient History of Henna
Henna is an interesting and versatile plant. It has almost as many uses as it has names. It is famous for being both a hair colorant and a skin dye, but it has also been used traditionally as a medicine. In some parts of India, the flowers are even considered to aid restful sleep if left under a pillow.
What we commonly know as henna is a flowering shrub by the name of Lawsonia Inermis. The name henna is most similar to the Arabic name for it: al-hinna. In Sanskrit it is known as mendhika. Mehndi, the most commonly known name, is Hindi in origin, and it is known as maruthani in Tamil.
Henna as hair dye
Historically, when henna was used as hair dye, henna powder was mixed with lemon juice, coconut oil and tea. The mixture was left overnight, and the following day it would be applied to the recipient’s hair. The result would be a beautiful reddish-brown hue.
Henna is used as a treatment (and preventative measure) for dandruff; it blitzes those pesky grey hairs and is even used to prevent hair loss. Some nomadic tribes even dyed their horses’ manes with henna, and henna use was considered throughout India to be a health product.
Today henna can be found in many countries all over the world, packaged in pretty boxes and marketed as herbal hair dye. Despite the many commercial options available, henna remains popular because of the natural ingredients and vibrant colors it produces.
Henna as Mehndi art
Henna mehndi art is something else entirely.Estimated to have started in the third century, Mehndi art has been popular in the Asian and Arabic countries for almost two millennia… and if anything its popularity is only increasing! You’ll surely have seen a henna artist or two at events in the USA, but they’re making a profession out of Mehndi art all over Europe too.
Nobody knows exactly where and when the first henna designs were forged; India, Persia and Egypt all try to take the credit for that. Ancient designs were initially very basic… nothing like the elaborate and intricate designs we see today.
Henna designs weren’t always so intricate
In India, the women would traditionally use henna to etch a simple circle on the palm of the hand, with several little circles around its circumference; a design that is still prevalent in Southern India. Circles are a failsafe starting point anyway – once the circle is in place the artist can add petals, which in turn can be filled with straight lines.
Modern Indian henna designs also start off with common patterns such as the bela or creeper vine, or flowers like the lotus. Other prevalent designs are the world-famous paisley , and beautiful peacocks, which can be seen on many skins.
Henna art was an ancient form of seduction
Ancient Indian texts encouraged women to develop artistic expression as a form of seduction; henna was a natural tool that women could use for this purpose. They would then pass the skills they learned down to the next generations and Mehndi art became firmly rooted in the culture.
Men would appreciate the beautiful adornments, so it made sense that Mehndi became such a major feature at weddings. Mehndi would be applied to several areas of the body, including the palms of the hands, the feet, and the back and shoulders.
In Rajasthan India (where Henna City’s high quality henna products come from), Mehndi application is a year-round practice. There is a never-ending flow of occasions to apply henna, including many festivals, weddings and parties. Rajasthan is not unique in this, though; today Mehndi art is seen at the same kinds of events all over the world.
Bridal Mehndi is a big thing in India
Indian brides wouldn’t feel that their wedding was complete without an elaborate henna adornment. Their hands are decorated with highly detailed designs; this is known as Solah Shringar , which translates roughly to the sixteen ‘steps’ or ‘adornments’ experienced by each bride.
These adornments include everything from bindis to gemstones and jewelry, flowers, hair dye, veils, and of course the Mehndi art. The Mehndi ceremony normally happens right before the marriage ceremony, and is often a private event for family and friends. The bride is not supposed to leave the house after the Mehndi application.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this insight into the history of Mehndi art. If it has inspired you to try your hand at henna art , all the better! Mehndi is an art form that can be learned; with a bit of patience and practice, you’ll be a pro in no time. Good luck!