The word ‘Mehndi’ is derived from the sanskrit word ‘Mendhika’. Also known as ‘Henna’ it is the temporary form of skin decoration which is used from ancient times in India. The application of mehndi is also mentioned in the ‘Vedic’ ritual books. It is believed to be an important vedic custom meant to awaken the inner light. In traditional mehndi designs a sun used to be drawn on the palm which symbolises the mind.
In India, mehndi is drawn during ocassions like weddings and festivals like Karva Chauth, Diwali, Bhaidooj and Teej. The Mehndi Ceremony is one of te most important pre wedding rituals for the bride drawn on the palms and feet it is mainly used for the decoration of brides. Various patterns of Henna are applied to the bride before the wedding ceremonies. Bridegrooms are also applied with henna in some places in India likeRajasthan. These rituals are carried in different ways on the basis of customs and culture.
The ceremony is mainly held at the bride’s house few days before the marriage. The bride and the groom attend the ceremony together and mehndi is applied by a professional henna artist or by a relative to the bride’s hands and feet. It is celebrated like a festival with people wearing traditional Indian attire and dancing and singing traditional songs. The groom usually wears a jutti (traditional indian footwear) instead of a western footwear.
Henna is applied to the skin using a plastic cone or a paint brush, the painted area is then wrapped with tissue, plastic or medical tape for three to six hours sometimes overnight to lock the body heat so as to get a more intense colour on the skin. When the plastic is removed the design is pale to dark orange in colour and gradually darkens through oxidation in 24-72 hours giving it a reddish brown colour which lasts from one to three weeks depending on the quality and type of henna paste applied.
Nowadays, henna cones are available in the market which makes painting very easy. In rural areas women grind fresh henna leaves with oil on a grinding stone which is not as refined as the readymade henna cones but gives much darker colour compared to the cones. Mahur is a flower based dye used in some parts of India and is still used in Bengal. Henna cones contains synthetic dye p- Phenylenediamine (PPD) which gives it the desired black colour but is extremely harmful to the skin and can cause skin allergies leading to injury or may be death at times.
Apart from India, it is also very familiar in the west by the name ‘Henna Tatoos’ which became popular in the late 90’s. It is also common in the Gulf State of Yemen. The mehndi ritual there is known as ‘Henna Night’. The mehndi ceremony in the west is mainly carried out by the Indian community. Birmingham in U.K is very famous for the lavish mehndi rituals.