Mehendi – The mark of the has existed for centuries. The exact place of its origin is difficult to track because of centuries of people in different cultures moving through the continents and taking their art forms with them and therefore sharing their art with everyone along the way.
Some historical evidence suggests that Mehendi started in India while others believe it was introduced or brought to India by the Mughals during the 12th century A.D. While some believe that it appeared as an art form in Egypt first.
Mehendi flowers produce perfume, and the Egyptians are believed to have made an oil and an ointment from them for increasing the suppleness of the limbs. There has also been proof to believe that henna (Mehendi) was used to stain the fingers and toes of Pharoahs prior to mummification over 5000 years ago when it was also used as a cosmetic and even for it's healing power. Since the mummification process took approximately 70 days, and knowing that Egyptians were diligent in planning for their deaths and their rebirth in the afterlife, it is not surprising that they also became quite obsessed with the preservation process. The Egyptians believed that body art ensured their acceptance into the afterlife and therefore used tattooing and Mehendi to please the gods and guarantee a pleasant trip.
The henna used for mehndi comes from a bush called Lawsonia Inermis which is part of the loose strife family the bush is grown in certain countries such as Sudan, Egypt, India, most of the North African counties, The Middle East even in Florida and California as these places are hot and dry. The bush has a somewhat ornamental appearance and often grows to be quite large, ranging from six to twenty feet in some cases. The lance- shaped leaves from the bush are harvested, dried and then crushed to make the henna powder.
In various eastern parts of the world, henna is thought to hold special medicinal or even magical properties due to a brown substance of a resinoid fracture found in it. This has chemical properties which characterize tannins, and is therefore named hennotannic acid. It is used as a skin conditioner, to help heal rashes and skin diseases, to prevent thinning hair, even to cool the skin in order to reduce swelling in hot climates. It can also be made into a beverage to heal headaches and stomach pain. It has also been used to treat serious conditions such as leprosy, smallpox, cancer of the colon, headaches and blood loss - especially during childbirth. The plant can also treat muscle contraction and fungal and bacterial infections.
The bush has somewhat of an ornamental appearance and often grows to be quite large, ranging from six to twenty feet in some cases. In order to get the henna powder, the lance- shaped leaves from the bush are harvested, dried and then crushed.
In Morocco, the doors of newly purchased homes often have henna painted on it. This is believed to chase away evil as henna is used for the protection against the "evil eye", and also bring prosperity to the home’s owners. Animals such as bulls, milk cows, and horses are sometimes decorated on their forehead with henna for protection.
With the passing of centuries, and the use of Mehendi being spread, mehndi application has gained in significance and the methods and designs have become more sophisticated. In cultures within the Middle East, Asia and North Africa, these communities use mehndi (mehendi) for the same purpose: to decorate and beautify; however, each one has its own unique designs, inspired by indigenous fabrics, the local architecture and natural environment, and even individual cultural experiences. Hence Henna designs have traditionally fallen into four different styles.
For example, Arabic patterns are well spaced on the hands and traditionally completed by dyeing the nails with mehendi to give a deep stain, where as the Middle Eastern style is mostly made up of floral patterns that is similar to the Arabic textiles, paintings and carvings and do not usually follow a distinctive pattern.
The North African style generally follows the shape of the hands and feet using geometrical floral patterns. In some cases designs are intricately applied and developed around images of animals such as the peacock, butterfly and even the fish, which are all completed with finely detailed patterns.
The Pakistani and North Indian designs confuse many people, since both are intricately applied and the designs encompass more than just the feet and hands and generally extend further up the appendages to give the illusion of a lacy glove-like and stockings effect which are made up of lines, paisley patterns and teardrops. In fact, however, Pakistani designs are a blend of both the north Indian style and Arabic motifs – e.g. flowers, leaves and geometrical shapes. This choice of motif derives from religious teachings: since Muslims must not pray with figurative representations on the body, and so do not employ designs depicting human faces, birds or animals.
In south India however, a circular pattern is drawn and filled in the center of the palm. Then a cap is formed on the fingers, as if they had been dipped in mehandi. This design is also used by south Indian classical dancers.
No Indian wedding is ever complete without the Mehendi. Whichever part of the country the bride may be from her hands are adorned with the lovely red hue of the mehendi (mehndi). The brides have a choice between the Indian mehendi (which covers pretty much most of the palm) and the Arabic mehendi (in which the pattern is drawn to one side of the hand).
Mehendi (Mehndi) is associated to lots of things - a good dark design is a sign of good luck for the marital couple. It is common for the names of the bride and groom to be hidden in the mehndi design; it is said that the wedding night cannot commence until the groom has found the names. In some cases popular traditional images are used in the designs for example the peacock, which is the national bird if India. Religious symbols are incorporated, such as the 'doli', a form of hand-pulled carriage which was used to transport the bride from her home to her in-laws' house in the days before cars. The lotus flower is also popular and an elephant with a raised trunk, which is also a symbol of good luck.
Lastly, the Indonesian and Southern Asian styles, this is a mix of Middle Eastern and Indian designs using blocks of color on the very tips of their toes and fingers. All of these styles remain popular today but have also been joined in popularity by Celtic designs and Chinese symbols.
Here in Trinidad and Tobago, Henna designs are used and can seen on a traditional front. For example, at weddings and religious functions such as Eid, and Divali, even classical dancers decorate their hands and feet for their performances. More and more people are learning the art which is making Henna or Mehendi to become a common sight to the delight of all.
Regardless of how you use henna, the point remains the same and that is to have fun with the designs, decorating your body and experiment with the images until you find something that you feel really passionate about.
Allison Budree- T&T correspondent
Mehindi art done by Amrita Maharaj
Last Updated (Monday, 19 October 2009 17:10)