No one does body art like in India,
where the craft has existed for thousands of years. Mehendi or Mehndi, as it’s
also known, is the ancient form of temporary body art or skin decoration. In
fact, the tradition goes so far back that archeologists have found mummies with
forms of Mehendi on their hands. You could say that it’s the early ancestor of
today’s common tattoo but one that isn’t permanent. In Western cultures, the
temporary skin art is widely known as the henna tattoo.
Unlike permanent tattoo ink,
Mehendi is applied on the skin using a paste that’s derived from the crushed
dried leaves of the henna plant. Hence its western name. A paintbrush, gold
rod, plastic cone, toothpick or stick are the usual tools used to apply the
paste onto the skin. While the color of the paste is usually a dark brown, it
can also vary in shade with Mehendi sometimes applied in red color tones.
In the past, Mehendi was a body art
that both men and women would often wear. However, as time moved on, it became
largely associated with feminine skin decoration. Today, not only is it a
time-honored part of Indian culture, as well as other Asian cultures, but it
has also often been adopted and honored in pop culture.
Mehendi is usually applied to the
hands and feet in intricate patterns and designs. Many wearers even go beyond
their hands and apply the designs up their arms. When it comes to the actual
design, the options and variations are virtually limitless. There are infinite
ways in which wearers can apply the paste as a means of ceremonial art and to
also express one’s own personality and style. Lace, paisley, peacock, and
floral themes are just a few of the most popular designs, especially when it
comes to traditional motifs.
Indian tradition is very much
interwoven with the art of Mehendi. Hands and feet are often adorned with the
most intricate of designs during special celebrations such as Hindu weddings.
During such occasions, the bride, as well as most of her female guests, apply
Mehendi. However, for the bride, it isn’t a simple and casual process of
application. There is a lot of ceremony in the customs and traditions that are
followed in applying Mehendi on the bride. In fact, even the individual who
applies the Mehendi on the bride’s body must be happily married as a good omen
for the soon to be married couple.
Mehendi is, of course, not only
reserved for wedding celebrations. One will often see women fully embellished
with Mehendi during Indian festivals such as Diwali, Karva Chauth and Vat
Purnima, as well as during Muslim Festivals including Eid-ul-Fitr, among
When applying Mehendi, wearers must
prepare many hours before the special events and festivals they are to wear it
to. It can take up to forty-eight hours to apply the paste and wait for it to
dry. Therefore, adequate planning and time must be reserved. While it takes
considerable time to apply, Mehendi only lasts on the skin for between one to
three weeks. And while it may be a temporary body adornment, lasting just a few
weeks, the art of Mehendi is one that will continue to endure for years and
generations to come.
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