The art known as Henna is something many people love, and has become common in beauty shops and boardwalks across the globe. But not everyone knows its origin and the rich history that has made it a prevalent part of many cultures today.
Henna is derived from Arabic and is more commonly known by the more modern English term. In India, it is actually called Mehndi. It is a dye made from a plant known as Lawsonia inermis. It’s usually made into a paint in order to dye skin and other parts of the body like hair, or to create tapestries, fabrics, etc. There are also different forms other than henna leaves, such as powders.
The history of henna can be traced back to Ancient Egypt, when it was used not only for embellishment but also for mummies. Even Cleopatra is said to have worn henna. It has been used over multiple centuries specifically in desert regions. This is because of the cooling benefits henna provides. Placing it on the skin would ease the heat and after it left a lingering mark, many people began to use it as body art. This usage became popular in India and has continued for generations. There, it is called Mehndi.
Many superstitions and beliefs surround Mehndi like how it signifies good luck, joy, beauty, blessings, or a ward against evil. Some people use it to enhance good fortune during childbirth or as medicine to ease physical ailments. Henna also dries in varying shades, often depending on how long it has been since the henna has been applied, and darker versus lighter henna can symbolize different things.
The use of henna in cultural traditions is popular in many regions such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Morocco, and more. For example, in Indian weddings, Mehndi is extremely integral to the ceremony. There is a night dedicated to Mehndi where the bride, her family, and her friends enjoy music and celebration in preparation for the wedding approaching. There are artists there that “tattoo” the Mehndi onto the bride’s arms, hands, feet, and often even legs. This is a large festivity and many guests receive some of their own Mehndi to commemorate the event.
More recently, henna has also gained fame in the west in continents like North America, where many people have begun to use it as hair dye or “tattoos” on beach boardwalks. These uses also became popular after big celebrities like Madonna have been seen wearing henna.
Overall, the history can be traced back to many different cultures in the East, many of which still use henna today in important traditions or ceremonies. One of the most popular places to get henna done today is in Delhi, India, specifically in market places. One is called Connaught Place and is a popular spot amongst those who visit New Delhi. But after all the Mendhi I’ve gotten, my favorite is still someone in their own home who applies it with love and joy.