The Joy of Mehndi

Mehndi or henna can be described as a form of body and is part of the pre-wedding ceremony in Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh faiths.

Henna is the plant from which it is derived and when applied as mehndi, it leaves a orange-brown colour on the skin.  The skin tone of the wearer will also determine how well the mehndi is absorbed.  It’s a common belief that the darker the colour of mehndi, the better the relationship will be between the bride and her mother-in-law.

With tattoos becoming very popular in the western world in recent years, henna can also be used as a temporary tattoo.  Henna or mehndi will eventually fade within a few weeks of being applied, so does not permanently colour the skin.  It is also painless 😊. 

It is generally accepted that the application of mehndi dates back at least 5,000 years.  The designs can vary greatly and each culture will have symbols that hold special significance.

It plays a special significance in Indian weddings as it is a defined ritual that takes place before the wedding.  Traditionally, mehndi is applied to the bride first and then anyone on the bride’s side that may also want a design.  I remember as a child, it was one of the most exciting things to experience for young girls, when we attended a wedding.  Nowadays, the groom’s side of the family will also use mehndi as a wedding celebration.

What used to be a paste applied to the inside and outside of hands and on top of the feet, is now an intricate art form, and mehndi artists are hired to apply henna to the hands and feet of the bride and her relatives as part of the wedding celebration.

The designs are varied and can take time to apply.  Once complete, the wearer needs to let the colour absorb into the skin so the bride may have to sit in an awkward position to allow the henna to dry until she is ready to wash it off.  This may be an hour up to a few hours.  Usually, the longer you leave the mehndi on the skin, the deeper the colour, but again, this depends on the skin tone and how well it absorbs the henna.

The artist will also try and hide the groom’s name in the design applied to the bride, and some then play the game of trying to find the groom’s name in the design.  It’s not easy!

How Mehndi is made

Mehndi is traditionally made by grinding dried henna leaves into a powder and then adding water to mix it in to a paste.  The paste would then be put into a handmade scoop (which would be made out of newspaper), the tip cut off to allow the mehndi to flow on to the skin in a controlled way so as to be able to apply a design.  Nowadays, it can be purchased readymade.

Mehndi has become very popular in the western world with celebrities using it, which in turn has popularised it.  I’ve seen people having it applied at craft fairs.  The joy of mehndi is that it is temporary, painless and you can use it whether you are a child or an adult.  It is also a natural substance so no chemicals are used in its production or application.

Henna design

If you’re interested in the application of mehndi by a mehndi artist (Gopi Henna), below is a video that shows mehndi being applied.  It’s not an easy skill to learn, but it is worth it if you are creatively minded and enjoy intricate design.

Henna design