Islamabad
, 18. October 2016
Expression of an ancient Indian Tradition

The Art of Mehndi

Mehndis are artful ornamental body paintings that are used in India, Persia, the Arab heartlands, Morocco, Mauritania, Tunisia, Egypt and Sudan especially in the context of weddings ceremonies. Here the bride gets an artful paint on her hands, arms and feet two days before her wedding.

x-working A wedding Mehndi lasts up to nine hours.
A wedding Mehndi lasts up to nine hours.

Supposedly the tradition of Mehndi comes from Rajasthan, the desert state in northern India. Originally one smeared the crushed henna leaves and water for cooling to the head, hands and feet. Not only the paste refreshed, but also the colour that it left. Eventually the desert women realized that they could even draw ornaments with gaps in between and the cooling effect still persisted. Thus the Mehndi art evolved.

In India, we see many women with Mehndis. The filigree brown ornaments stretch like elegant lace gloves from the fingertips to the upper arms. The age old tradition stems from the wedding painting of the brides. The motifs are vines, gods, figures and animals. They are all considered auspicious. Like the dark brown hue of Mehndi. Since the Henna works by fermentation, several hours reaction time are necessary. The longer, the darker and the more durable the Mehndi.

In a Mehndi ceremony the bride and her friends are painted with Mehndis two days before a wedding. Once the Mehndi is then applied on the bride, she no longer leaves the house. This is a tradition. This way the bride cannot make any more purchases and prepare anything else right before the wedding. She is forced to relax. An old vernacular says that the darker the bride´s Mehndi, the deeper the love of the bridegroom and of the mother-in-law. In fact, the colour of the Mehndis provides information about the social status of a bride. The hours of reaction time can only afford those who have enough helpers helping the bride with each move. In a society like India that forwards the physical work strictly to its lower castes, a luxury of this type is of importance.

Moreover, the Mehndi has also prevailed as a fashion accessory. The colour, which is obtained from young, ultrafine instincts of henna, holds ten to 14 days. At times there are even Mehndi competitions where artists excel themselves in speed and designs. In contrast, many Indians offer this kind of body painting at night on the streets in big cities. However, they often do use the black henna. The hair dye PPD is usually added to it and it can cause severe allergic reactions. Doctors therefore recommend to be careful when you see an offer containing black coloured Henna tattoos- and pastes from "Mehndi artists" or cosmetic companies.

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