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The art of Henna

Henna tattoos nowadays are popular trend amongst women. We see tons of pictures on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter of girls whose hands are beautifully painted with amazing and exotic artworks.

But what actually is this art and what are the pros and cons of it?

My addiction for mehndi (henna in hindi) started almost a year back. And the main reason for that was because whenever I see a girl with her hands painted with henna, she immediately starts looking beautiful and gentle to me. But my interest for it was way deeper than just the beautiful designs.

So after talking to some henna artists I got to know a few things about the origin and traditions, the most common use of it, the meaning of the different forms and some unexpected facts.


The Origin

Historically the art of henna (called mehndi in Hindi and Urdu) has been practiced for years in the Arabian Peninsula, Indian Subcontinent, parts of South East Asia, Carthage, other parts of North Africa and the Horn of Africa. In some documentations the art of the henna dates back over 5000 years. Because henna has natural cooling effect, people of the desert have been using henna for cooling down their bodies.  They make a paste of the henna and soak their palms and soles of the feet in it. The cooling sensation throughout the body was felt for as long as the henna stain remains on the skin. Initially, as the stain faded away, it left patterns on the skin surface which led to the idea of make designs for decorative purposes.

In the ancient Egyptian times mummies wore henna designs and it is documented that Cleopatra herself used henna for decorative purposes.

Henna was not only a popular adornment for the rich but also for the poor, who could not afford jewelry and used it to decorate their bodies as well.

Henna has been used since antiquity to dye skin, hair and fingernails, as well as fabrics including silk, wool and leather.


Henna as a Remedy

Besides the beauty procedures use of the henna it is also widely used as a treat for a various diseases from ancient time. It has special cooling, antiviral, antimycotic, antiparasitic and antibacterial properties which make it one of the special flowering plant widely used for different purpose. Botanical name of henna is “lawsonia inermis”.

Being a highly antiseptic agent, any small cuts, burns or scratches, can be healed easily with the application of mehndi.

It improves blood circulation in the body and enhances general health.

Henna helps to regulate women’s menstrual cycle. But this is also one of the reasons why a lot of mehndi artist suggest girls who are on their first days of periods not to apply henna because it can cause increased bleeding.

Henna also has hypoglycaemic and hypolipidemic activities that help to control diabetes.

Application of henna can prevent too much stress because it cools the body and keeps the nerves from becoming tense. Used as a treatment for migraines​ and other chronic pain. This is the reason why it is applied on the hands and feet, being the house nerve endings in the body.

Henna is used as a natural hair conditioning product. It improves the growth of the hair and reduces split ends. Also it is considered one of the best products to treat every hair related problem like dandruff and even baldness.


Henna in Traditions

Henna is traditionally used for special occasions like holidays, birthdays and wedding in Africa, South East Asia, the Arabian Peninsula, the Near East and South Asia.

The most popular of the traditions is the Bridal henna nights during which henna is applied on the feet and hands of the bride. The night is also filled with games, music, and dance performances. Some of the countries in which this ceremony is known nowadays are Algeria, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Singapore, Malaysia, Israel and Middle East, Somalia, Tunisia and India.

Indian weddings are known for their numerous traditions and customs that are associated with special celebrations. On this day henna is applied not only on the bride’s body but even on the groom’s. While the bride has a very elaborate pattern done, the groom usually has just a mandala design.

It is a common belief that the darker the color the mehndi is on the bride’s hands, the more will she be loved by her husband and mother-in-law.

As I mentioned it above mehndi is a very powerful medicinal herb and it was used to reduce headeaches and fevers caused by the pre-wedding stress.

Other celebrations during which the application of henna is a custom:

Hindu holidays – Karva Chauth, Teej, Diwali

Muslim holidays Ramzan, Mawlid, Eid al-Fitr

Jewish holidays Purim, Pesach/Passover

Nowruz (Iranian New Year / Perisan New Year)


Today mehndi is really popular in “the West” too. People all over the world have adopted the ancient traditions of adorning their bodies with the beautiful henna artworks. During the 90’s it has become a popular method of temporary decorations of the body and has become a trend that is growing ever since. Nowadays it is used in a various senses. You will see people having their hands and feet painted for weddings, bellies painted while in pregnancy, heads adorned with henna while going through chemotherapy, scars camouflaged to make them unnoticeable, etc.

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Feel free to contact for any suggestion or query. 


P.S. The artworks in all of the pictures are made by the bulgarian Mehndi artist Saci-sundari (Stela Hristova). You can check her work on Instagram @stelasaci  or on Facebook – Indian Beauty Workshop .



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