What Is Mehendi

What is mehendi? Learn about this fine art.

The art of Mendhi has existed for centuries. The exact place of its origin is difficult to track because of centuries of people in different cultures moving through the continents and taking their art forms with them and therefore sharing their art with everyone along the way.

Some historical evidence suggests that Mendhi started in India while others believe it was introduced to India during the twelfth century A.D. I personally feel that it would be hard to argue the fact that it appeared as an art form in Egypt first.

Proof has been found that henna(mendhi) was used to stain the fingers and toes of Pharoahs prior to mummification over 5000 years ago when it was also used as a cosmetic and for it's healing power. The mummification process took 70 days and as the Egyptians were diligent in planning for their deaths and their rebirth in the afterlife, they became quite obsessed with the preservation process. The Egyptians believed that body art ensured their acceptance into the afterlife and therefore used tattooing and mendhi to please the gods and guarantee a pleasant trip.

The henna used for mehndi comes from a bush called Lawsonia Inermis which is part of the loose strife family and is grown in the Sudan, Egypt, India, most of the North African counties, The Middle East and other hot and dry places. The bush is also grown in Florida and California for his ornamental appearance and often grows to be quite large, ranging from six to twenty feet in some cases. The lance- shaped leaves from the bush are harvested, dried and then crushed to make the henna powder. Henna is used for hair dye, as a skin conditioner and as a reliever for rashes. The art of mendhi is referred to as henna, mehndi or mehandi depending on where you are and which name you feel came first (or are most comfortable using). No matter what you call it though -- the art form remains essentially the same as it was centuries ago. It is beautiful the way it stains the skin!

Mendhi is not the huge commitment that tattooing is because of its temporary nature. For people who are too scared to endure the poking of a needle or are too ambivalent to commit to wearing the same permanent design forever -- mendhi is a wonderful alternative. I would suggest that anyone who is hesitant about getting a permanent tattoo -- try walking the streets with a henna design for a couple of weeks first. It helps you discern if you can accept the constant backward glances and whispers that you often hear when you are in public as a decorated person. Henna also allows you to play around with designs until you find one that you are comfortable with -- and then you can get it permanently etched into your skin if you want to. Some people like permanency while others are much more comfortable with temporary forms of body art. Regardless of how you use henna to decorate your body -- the main idea is to have fun.

Henna designs have traditionally fallen into four different styles. The Middle Eastern style is mostly made up of floral patterns similar to the Arabic textiles, paintings and carvings and do not usually follow a destinctive pattern. The North African style generally follows the shape of the hands and feet using geometrical floral patterns. The Indian and Pakistani designs encompass more than just the feet and hands and generally extend further up the appendages to give the illusion of gloves and stockings which are made up of lines, paisley patterns and teardrops. Lastly, the Indonesian and Southern Asian styles were a mix of Middle Eastern and Indian designs using blocks of color on the very tips of their toes and fingers. All of these styles remain popular today but have also been joined in popularity by celtic designs and chinese symbols. The point once again is to have fun with designs and experiment with them until you find something that you feel really passionate about.

In India, henna is used at celebrations like weddings and other special occasions which are traditionally associated with transcendence and transformation. It is used for worship and work but NOT for the sake of vanity. It is traditional for the bride to get together with her friends and have them spend hours applying the henna to her skin and give her marriage advice in tandem. The patterns used for weddings are much more intricate and time consuming (than the everyday wear) and therefore the bride's friends have lots of time to give her advice on erotic activities for her wedding night, sexual pointers and tips during the hours that it can take to complete the design. The bride's henna must be more beautiful and intricate than anyone else's of course since it is, after all, her special day. Another tradition is that the groom's name is hidden in the henna and he can not have sex with his new bride until he has searched her hennaed parts for his Bob, John, Jesus or Sandeep (or whatever his name is). This sounds like a wonderful plan to me -- you have him right where you want him. Another interesting fact is that the bride has good reason to look after her henna for she is not expected to partake in housework until the henna is gone. This means that she will not be rubbing, scrubbing or tubbing a lot unless she REALLY loves doing housework.

There are a huge number of henna recipes out there if you are interested in making your own. There are, of course, an equally large number of suppliers in shops and on the internet that can get you what you need. You might want to try mixing up a recipe right from the start or buy it -- whichever you decide is best. Either way, you will likely need to get the necessary supplies at a henna shop or drug store.

People who do henna, generally have recipes that they prefer. This is a recipe that I was given by a friend -- it is her favourite and I hope that it will work for you.

Put 2 to 3 tablespoons of henna in a bowl. Henna might stain your bowl so you may prefer using a bowl that you aren't really attached to eating your salad or cereal out of.

Boil 1 to 1 ½ cups of water.

Put 2 teabags in the boiled water and let them steep there for about 5 minutes.

Add 4 to 6 tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice to the henna powder and mix it well. The mixture should look more like cookie dough than cake mix.

Add the hot tea to the henna and lemon juice mixture slowly so that is doesn't lump (like your aunt Edna's Thanksgiving gravy -- no thanks Edna)

The mixture should have approximately the consistency of icing when it comes out of a decorating tube.

Cover the mixture over and let it sit for about 5 hours.

Hands and feet are the most common areas that people apply henna to since the dryest areas soak up and hold the colour the best-- but you can apply it to any area of your body that you want to. You can plan a design out on your own or you can buy stencils for this purpose. Be warned though that you can't 'erase' it easily if you make a booboo -- although since it isn't permanent, you can start over again when it fades (no harm done). You can use q-tips, cones that are specifically made for this purpose, or you can get plastic squeeze bottles and use them for the application of the henna. Once again, it is your preference and once you've tried it a few different ways, you'll know what your 'style' is. If you want the henna to last for awhile, you will need to keep it on for as long as possible. Try for atleast seven hours. That may sound like a long time but it really isn't. After enough time has passed, you can take the henna off using your fingers to pick it off or gently rub it off with an implement that you are comfortable with (ie., a piece of cardboard, a popsicle stick etc). Try not to use soap on the hennaed parts for atleast a day (two is better) and be gentle with it. You can gently rinse it with water if you like but don't rub it -- it'll stay with you much longer that way. If you look after it, it can last for a week or two although people have told me that their designs have lasted longer than that (3 to 4 weeks). How long the design will stay, depends on what body part the design is on and how often you wash the area. Some people have the kind of skin and heat level that works best with henna while others don't -- that is a reality of this art form. Look after it though, and it will stay longer than if you wash it with harsh soap and use chlorinated water on it.

Mix up some paste or buy it and have a blast trying out all sorts of designs. Have a henna party and invite a bunch of your best pals over. If you feel that you need more information on the subject, there are a huge number of resources out there. Use your search engine on the internet or the yellow pages in the phone book to get in contact with people that can help you. Don't be discouraged if you try it and it doesn't work out though -- just keep at it, be glad that it is only temporary and don't settle for mediocrity -- be great!

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