By Ajuli Dasgupta
Did you know that mehendi originated in Egypt? It was used to stain the fingers and toes of Pharaohs, prior to their mummification.
Mehendi, or henna, the mere mention of it, brings a smile on the countenance of little girls, brides, teens and even older women. It is a form of skin decoration prevalent in the Indian subcontinent.
But, did you know that mehendi originated in Egypt? Yes, it was one of the ancient art forms in the land of the Pharaohs. Evidence has been found that henna was used to stain the fingers and toes of Pharaohs prior to mummification. The process was lengthy and stretched for days together. The Egyptians believed that body art enabled recognition in afterlife. And thus mehendi found its way as the prevalent body art-form during those bygone days of history.
Henna is of Persian origin. This is a small flowering shrub, Lawsonia inermis. It is found globally across India, Pakistan, Morocco, Yemen, Iran, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Libya, Egypt and Bangladesh and can be grown in dry and hot conditions. However, the variety of henna plant varies from region to region and has different coloring properties as well. Thus, the color of the powder also varies. Henna powder, in its pure and natural form, is bright or deep green, khaki or brown. The color produced by pure natural henna ranges from orange to red, to black cherry and near black color. Contrary to the popular belief, pure black color is not produced by natural henna powder. When manufactured in large quantities, the leaves are taken to the factory and ground in a machine.
The Mughals were the propagators of henna in the Asian subcontinent. In the 12th century, the rich and famous used henna to decorate and beautify themselves.
Henna, also has the power of medicine and was used for healing since time immemorial. Today this art form is popular in the West and is actually considered a fashion statement. Creative patterns of mehendi have been typically applied to brides before marriage. In North India, there is a day specifically dedicated to the mehendi ritual. Music and fun add to the enjoyment of this ritual.
In some parts of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sudan, bridegrooms too have mehendi applied to their hands and feet.
In the contemporary world people buy readymade henna cones, which are ready and convenient to use. But in rural areas, women grind fresh henna leaves on sil (grinding stone).
Mehendi is also a substitute for tattooing. Henna is believed to lower the body heat and hence many apply it on their hair too. To get the tattoo-black affect, people have started adding the synthetic dye p-Phenylenediamine (PPD) to henna to give it the black color. But a line of caution — severe allergic reactions resulting in permanent injury or even death may occur.
Now that we have walked the memory lane and know more about henna’s magical charms…let mehendi add grace to your palm.