Henna is a dye that is prepared from the henna plant and used in the art of temporary tattooing from the dyes. Henna has been used for hundreds of years as a way to dye hair, skin, fingernails and fabrics such as wool, silk, and leather.

Historically, henna has been used for cosmetics in Ancient Egypt, and the horn of Africa, west Africa, North Africa, in the Arabian peninsula, south Asia, and the near east. During the 19th century it was popular with women in Iberia and Europe.

Mehndi refers to a paste that comes in a cone shaped tube and is then made into designs for women and men. Mehndi comes from mendhika in Sanskrit. Using mehndi has been described in the earliest Hindu Vedic books of ritual. Originally, it was used on the palms of women and never on the men. As time has gone on it is natural for men to wear it. Mehndi are customs of the Vedic and are intended as a symbolic representation of the inner and outer sun. The Vedic customs are focused on the idea of awakening your inner light. Many of the traditional Indian designs are a representation of the sun on the palm of the hand. This is intended to represent the feet and hands.

Why is Henna Used?

For more than 5000 years henna has been a symbol for health, sensuality, and good luck in the Arabic world. The plant is associated with positive vibes. It is thought to provide a link to the ancient times that were full of the good and bad spirits of Jnoun and Baraka. Many generations of women have used henna passed to cover their feet and hands with designs that range from a simple blob to other more intricate geometric designs that are designed to promote fertility, attract positive energy, and ward off evil.

Mehndi is practiced mainly in the Arab world and India and refers to the application of henna as a temporary skin decoration. The art has been popularized in the west through the entertainment industry. People in the Maldives, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Nepal use mehndi as well. During the late 1990s mehndi decorations became popular in the west where they are referred to as henna tattoos.

Traditional Uses

In Indian tradition mehndi is applied during Hindu festivals such as Teej, Bhai Dooj, Diwali, Vat Purnima, and Karva Chauth. It is also used during Hindu weddings. During festivals women will often have henna applied to their feet and hands and perhaps their shoulders. Men will apply henna to their chest, back, arms, and legs. The original use of henna was intended as decoration for Hindu brides.

Due to the limited number of traditional mehndi artists many people today purchase premade henna cones that make painting much easier. In more rural areas of India the women will grind the fresh henna leaves using grinding stones and oil to create henna designs.

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