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Most festive occasions call for a gathering of the women in the household, where hands, feet, and sometimes even arms, are decorated with intricate, elegant designs

Indians are known to include mehendi, or henna, as part of their wedding traditions. Most festive occasions call for a gathering of the women in the household, where hands, feet, and sometimes even arms, are decorated with intricate, elegant mehandi designs.

The tradition of henna designs goes back nearly 9000 years. Henna is a herb, known as mignonette, or Egyptian privet. Its leaves are powdered and mixed to a paste, before being used as a decoration. The people of Egypt, India, Pakistan, and the Middle East, initially used henna for hairs as a coolant for the body. The properties of this herb suited people who lived in warmer climates, and using henna allowed to reduce body temperature, and even prevent sunstrokes. This was an important wedding practice to ensure the good health of the bride. Especially in the Middle East, certain designs ensured fertility during a ceremony called 'Night of the Henna'. In many ways, it soon came to be regarded as a precursor to tattoos.

Henna leaves a dark burgundy to deep orange stain on the skin when applied, which remains for a little over two weeks. The richness of the stain bears cultural significance. The deeper the colour left by the henna worn by a bride, signifies the extent of her groom's love for her. During the mehandi ritual, women often hide their husbands' names in the designs, and believe that the deep colour it leaves on their skin, will impact their marriage.

Smell of henna, and prefer replacing natural mehendi with black henna. During the mehendi ritual, women often hide their husbands' names in the designs, and believe that the deep colour it leaves on their skin, will impact their marriage. Image source: wikimedia

Some women do not like the smell of henna, and prefer replacing natural mehandi with black henna. Cosmetic brands, these days, add colours into their henna mixes, for brides or women who want an extra dash of colour.

These colours are often not scientifically approved as being safe to use, and are illegal. Decal tattoos are also a trend these days. Henna designs are etched on paper, with an adhesive film on it. These designs are placed on the body, and after adding water, are removed to reveal a design. Another type of tattoo has backing that adheres to the skin and creates a barrier for the dye to stick.

Those who do not feel adventurous enough, or are not willing to commit to a permanent tattoo, prefer using decal black henna, or mehendi. The tradition of henna for hairs and hands, has now slightly been displaced. Designs are now added to any part of the body, and colours are also filled in. While the natural henna for hairs does not leave any harmful effects, the decal tattoos affect sensitive skin, causing rashes and breakouts.

Keywords: Henna, Tattoo, Festivals, Mehandi designs, henna designs


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