My name is Kathryn and I have been practicing mehndi for over 2 years. A sub-par henna tattoo I received inspired me to try my hand at henna and dig deeper into the beautiful and rich cultural aspects of this ancient female art form. I fell in love with the practice and continue to share my work at festivals, private functions and workshops.
What is Henna?
Henna is the Persian name for the shrub Lawsonia Inermis. It is native to Asia and the Mediterranean coast of Africa but now thrives in warmer climates all over the world.
Twice per year henna leaves are harvested, dried and ground into fine powder. These leaves are what produce the luscious red dye. Henna contains hennotanic acid which bonds with the collagen in our skin cells and keratin in our nails and hair to produce the stain.
Mehndi is the Hindi word describing the process/art form of using henna to paint designs on the body and leaving a beautiful stain.
Henna is the oldest documented cosmetic. It is celebratory and often used strictly for beautification of one’s body. However, it also has a host of medicinal uses and properties including antibacterial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory as well as acts as a cooling agent for the body, and is a potent natural sun block.
Many theological references to mehndi exist throughout the world - basically anywhere that has a period of hot and dry weather and a history of goddess worship has used henna. The widespread use makes it difficult to establish a date or country of origin.
Inscriptions place henna use in Syria as far back as 2100 BCE, the Greek Islands around 1700 BCE, the Egyptian Dynasties from 1500 BCE and cave paintings in India from 400 BCE. It was rumored henna was used by Cleopatra, Nefertiti, Fatima (Prophet Muhammed’s daughter) and Mumtaz Mahal (whom the Taj Mahal was built after).
Essentially this art form dates back over 4,000 years, is used in over 60 countries and spans 6 different religions. There are wide variations in design and application. Some distinct henna styles include Moroccan, Arabic, Polynesian, Indian and Sudanese.
Henna is used in many religious practices and customs, however, it is not sacred or religious in nature. Anyone that receives henna or practices mehndi is a recipient of an ancient female art form. Most commonly, a religious practice henna is used for is in weddings. The bride’s hands and feet are covered in mehndi before the wedding ceremony in Hindi and Muslim cultures.
Generally, the art form of mehndi is considered a blessing, good luck and wards off evil/the evil eye. It is commonly used in all-female circles as a reason to get together, recover, offer support and give advice.