Mehndi: Body Painting with Henna

History

Moorish arches

Henna has been used throughout Africa, India, and the Middle East for thousands of years.

For centuries, mehndi — the art of henna painting on the body — has been practiced in India, Africa, and the Middle East, where the henna plant is believed to bring love and good fortune, and to protect against evil. Mehndi is traditionally practiced for wedding ceremonies, during important rites of passage, and in times of joyous celebration. A paste made from the crushed leaves of the henna plant is applied to the skin, and when removed several hours later, leaves beautiful markings on the skin that fade naturally over 1 to 3 weeks.

Henna Use in the Past

Besides being the key ingredient in mehndi, henna has also been used to dye the manes and hooves of horses, and to color wool, silk, and animal skins, as well as men's beards. Studies of mummies dating back to 1200 BC show that henna was used on the hair and nails of the pharaohs.

Henna Today

Until the art of mehndi became hot news in 1996, henna was mostly used in the United States as a hair dye. Widely recognized now as a wonderful way to dye the skin and to achieve the look of a tattoo, traditional henna uses and application processes have gone contemporary. Although some will always prepare their own henna paste, mehndi kits of varying quality, with foolproof instructions and convenient stencils, can be purchased in many retail and online outlets (including this Web site).

As far back as 1200 B.C. the ancient Egyptians were using henna on their nails and hair. Henna was also used to dye animal skins, textiles, and men's beards. Once the henna plant’s cooling properties were discovered, painting the skin became a way for the desert people of India to cool down their body temperatures.

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Text for this page adapted from Mehndi: The Art of Henna Body Painting by Carine Fabius.

 

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Henna: Traditions and Culture

Practiced for five thousand years throughout India, Africa, and the Middle East, the act of painting the body with preparations made from the crushed leaves of the henna plant has always been done with the fervent wish that the act would engender good fortune, happy results, and good feelings....

The Henna Plant

A member of the Loosestrife family, henna (Lawsonia inermis) originally comes from Egypt, a country that is still one of the main suppliers of the plant (along with India, Morocco, and the Sudan)....

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