Saturday, 9 July 2022

Mehndi – a symbol of joy & celebration!


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Mehndi – a symbol of joy & celebration!

In India, festivities and marriage celebrations are not complete without mehndi. Mehndi plays an important role in marriages, festivals and other ceremonies. It is considered auspicious to apply mehndi on your hands and feet. Mehndi is a form of body art and temporary skin decoration originating in ancient India, in which decorative and creative designs are created on a person's body, using a wet paste, created from the powdered dry leaves of the henna plant.

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Dating back to ancient India, mehndi is still a popular form of body art among the women in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, the Maldives, Africa and the Middle East. In the late 1990s, mehndi decorations became fashionable in the West, popularized by Indian cinema and entertainment industry, where they are called henna tattoos. It was popular mainly among the young who found it akin to tattoos. The advantage being, it fades after some days and then they could go for new designs.

Mehndi is derived from the Sanskrit word mendhikā. The application of mehndi and turmeric is described in the earliest Hindu Vedic ritual books. It was originally used for only women's palms and sometimes for men, but as time progressed, it was more common for men to wear it too. Staining oneself with turmeric paste, as well as mehndi, are Vedic customs, intended to be a symbolic representation of the outer and the inner sun. Vedic customs are centered on the idea of awakening the inner light. Traditional Indian designs are representations of the sun on the palm, which, in this context, is intended to represent the hands and feet. Mehndi has a great significance in performing classical dance like Bharatnatyam.

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There are many variations and designs depending on the occasion. Women usually apply mehndi designs on their hands and feet. Some, including cancer patients and women with alopecia occasionally decorate their scalps. The standard color of henna is brown, but other design colors such as white, red, black and gold are sometimes used.

Mehndi in Indian tradition is typically applied during weddings and Hindu festivals like Karva Chauth, Vat Purnima, Diwali, Bhai Dooj, Navraathri, Durga Pooja and Teej. Muslims in South Asia also apply mendh during Muslim weddings, festivals such as Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Adha. During Hindu festivals, normally women apply mehndi to their hands and feet and sometimes on the back of their shoulders too, as men apply it on their arms, legs, back, and chest. And women, it is usually drawn on the palm, back of the hand and on feet, where the design will be clearest due to contrast with the lighter skin on these surfaces, which naturally contain less of the pigment melanin. Some even use it to dye their grey or white hair. But it tends to look brown reddish colour.

Similarly, Alta, Alata, or Mahur is a red dye used similarly to henna to paint the feet of the brides in some regions of the South Asia, for instance in Bangladesh and Indian States of  Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal.

Due to the desire for black tattoo, some people add the synthetic dye p-Phenylenediamine (PPD) to henna to give it a black colour. PPD may cause severe allergic reactions and was voted Allergen of the Year in 2006 by the American Contact Dermatitis Society.

Mehndi is an auspicious ceremonial art form which originated in the ancient Indian subcontinent. On the mehndi day, it is typically applied during weddings - for Hindu and Muslim brides. In Rajasthan, the grooms are given designs that are often as elaborate as those for brides. In Assam, apart from marriage, it is also applied by unmarried women during Rongali bihu. Muslims in Afghanistan also use it as an indication of coming of age. In the Middle East and Africa, it is common for women to apply henna to their fingernails and toenails and on their hands.

Henna paste or Mehndi is usually applied to the skin using a plastic cone, a paintbrush or a stick. After about 15–20 minutes, the mixture tends to dry and begin to crack, a mixture of lemon juice and white sugar is applied over the henna design to remoisten the henna mixture so that the henna will leave a darker stain. The painted area is then wrapped with tissue, plastic, or cloth to lock in body heat, creating a more intense colour on the skin. The wrap is normally not a traditional method, is worn for two to six hours, or sometimes overnight, and then removed. When first removed, the henna design is pale to dark orange in colour and gradually darkens through oxidation, over the course of 24 to 72 hours. The final color is reddish brown and can last anywhere from one to three weeks depending on the quality and type of henna paste applied, as well as where it was applied on the body (thicker skin stains darker and longer than thin skin). Moisturizing with natural oils, such as olive, sesame seed, or coconut, will also help extend the lifetime of the stain. Skin exfoliation causes the henna tattoo to fade.

Traditional Hindu or Sikh weddings in India are often for long durations with rituals and elaborate customs and traditions with many pre-wedding, wedding and post-wedding ceremonies. South Asian Muslim weddings may also have pre-wedding, wedding and post-wedding ceremonies. Different countries and regions of a country celebrate the ceremonies in different ways according to their own marriage customs, rituals, and culture. A mehndi ceremony is a tradition held before a wedding in many South Asian, Middle Eastern, and North African cultures.

According to Hindu tradition, the ceremony is mainly held at the bride's house or at a banquet hall on the eve of the marriage ceremony or few days before the marriage. Generally, the bride and groom attend the event together and on the occasion, a professional mehndi artist or a relative applies mehndi to the bride's hands and feet. The designs are very intricate. Often hidden within the mehndi pattern, the name or initials of the groom are applied. The event generally has a celebratory festival feel to it with the women dancing and singing traditional songs and the girls wearing vivid colors such as hot pink and yellow.

In Pakistan, the mendhi ceremony is referred to Rasm-e-Heena and is often one of the most important pre-wedding ceremonies, which is celebrated by the bride's family. In Bangladesh, the mendhi ceremony has traditionally been separated into two events; one organized by the bride's family and other one, by the groom's family. Mehndi ceremonies are also popular outside the Indian subcontinent amongst the South Asian community and abroad wherever people from the Indian subcontinent are settled. These are known hot spots for lavish mendhi celebrations and big fat weddings and celebrations.

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