The Indian World Of Mehendi Patterns And Designs

Probably originating in the Middle East, the use of Mehendi (henna) slowly spread to India with the coming of the Mughals in 12 A.D.

Mehendi, the Indian term for Henna, is not just a traditional form of body art, but herbs with mystical medicinal and beautification properties. These little olive colored leaves have been used for centuries to beautify women world over; by herbal doctors for their curative power and by cosmetic companies as natural hair conditioner.

This coloring herb is known by many names - mehendi in India, henna in Arabic, henne, Al-Khanna, Jamaica Mignonette, Egyptian Privet and Smooth Lawsonia, which only explains is popularity all over the globe. While its traditional use has a 5,000-year history, henna today has been found as a safer alternative to dyes used in tattooing.

How did the use of mehendi come about? Many conflicting opinions prevail worldwide on the origin and use of this medicinal plant. Historians are of the opinion that mehendi has been used for over 5,000 years for cosmetic and healing purposes. Many stories lead one to believe that henna had its origins in India, while others trace it back to Egypt.

Interestingly, the henna plant, whose botanical name is Lawsonia Inermis, was used as a substitute for air-conditioning in Indian deserts because of its ability to bring down the temperature of the human body. People dipped their hands and feet in a paste made of mehendi leaves, and found that even when the paste dried and was scraped off, as long as the orange color lasted the body remained cool. From being purely medicinal it transformed into an art, as women began to use their creativity in its application. It is also believed that the Mughals introduced this herb in India during the 12th Century.

Historians are also of the opinion that the decorative use of henna started as late as the 20th Century, while in the 17th Century barber's wives were usually employed for applying the paste on women. Ancient Egyptians used henna to stain their fingers and on the toes of Pharaohs prior to mummification.

The henna plant grows in hot and dry climates of India, Ethiopia, Kenya, Egypt, Yemen, Persia, Uganda, Iran, Pakistan, Syria and Afghanistan.

While the origin of the plant is still under conflict, its magical properties have deep rooted itself both in the East and West.

Henna the healer

Henna is attributed with other medicinal properties in addition to cooling. It is used as a coagulator for open wounds, to sooth burns and certain cases of eczema. Herbal doctors recommend its use for healing cuts and scratches, while beauticians treasure it for its properties like hair conditioning, hair root strengthening and hair loss prevention. Its other medicinal properties include arresting secretion or bleeding, preventing skin diseases, baldness, treating dysentery and liver disorders like jaundice and enlargement of the liver. Henna cleanses, colors and cools skin and hair.

Henna Facts

Henna leaves in natural form, when crushed, is a reddish orange colour. There is no black, burgundy or green henna. The life and intensity of henna stains on the skin depends on body chemistry of the person on whom it is applied. The color gets darker a couple of days after application. The color lasts on the skin on an average of one to four weeks. This natural color should not be applied on lips, around the eyes, eyelids or ingested, as it could lead to damage. Only external application of henna is permissible.

Henna Traditions

Henna is deep-rooted in historical tradition as it is in medicine. Its designs are an integral part of bridal adornment in Hindu, Muslim and Sephardic traditions. Indians believe Henna to be an erotic herb used during a wedding ceremony. Brides are given a "˜mehendi party' the day before the wedding, where her hands and feet are decorated exotically with this natural orange color and the initials of the groom inscribed into the intricacies of the design. While the women apply the design, they impart knowledge of being a satisfying mate. After the ceremony the groom explores his bride's hand trying to find the initials. Widows are strongly discouraged from partaking in the mehendi ceremony or applying the color on themselves.

Henna Designs

Indian designs of mehendi on the hands and feet are mostly fine, intricate, with thin lines defining a lacy, floral and paisley pattern. The faces of animals or figurative designs are never painted on the hands and feet, keeping religious aspects in mind. Large floral patterns on the hands are feet are associated with Arabic designs, while African henna patterns are bold, large and geometric in nature.

Henna At Home

Once you have the leaves or mehendi powder in hand it is quite easy to formulate the mixture.

For a mehendi design on the hands, mix a tablespoon of henna powder, juice of one lemon and a few drops of clove oil together. Once the mixture is in thick paste form, put it in an iron bowl and cover it with cling film. Leave it overnight. It can be applied either by using a cone or syringe.

To use mehendi as a conditioner, mix 5 tablespoons of mehendi, juice of one lime, one tablespoon of tea decoction, one tablespoon of dried gooseberry powder, one tablespoon soapnut powder, ½ cup of curds and one beaten egg together in a iron bowl. Leave the mixture to soak overnight. Apply on the hair and leave it for 2-3 hours to dry and wash. Since henna dries the hair, give hair an oil massage the next day.


With multitude of goodness in its favor, mehendi has over the years come to be associated with good health, fertility, wisdom, protection and spiritual enlightenment.

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