Henna: Traditions and Culture



Green portions of this map show areas where henna has been used traditionally for thousands of years for ceremonies and personal adornment.

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, whether it be in preparation for a special occasion or in celebration of a particular event, has always been done with the assumption or fervent wish that the act would engender good fortune, happy results, and good feelings.

Mehndi in India

In the north and western parts of India, the desert areas where the henna plant grows, mehndi (or henna painting) is a very important part of the wedding ritual and ceremony. As the story goes, the deeper the color obtained on the skin, the longer the love between the couple will last; hence the belief that a proper mehndi application is tantamount to a prayer to the gods for everlasting love and a successful marriage.

Mehndi in Morocco

Pregnant Moroccan women in their seventh month seek out well-respected henna practitioners called hannayas in order to have certain symbols painted on their ankle, which will then be encircled with a corresponding amulet. The henna and the amulet are meant to protect both the mother and child through birth. Once the baby is born and the umbilical cord severed, a plaster of henna, water, and flour is placed on the newborn's belly button in order to ensure beauty and wealth.

In Morocco, when a soldier goes off to war, he has his wife apply henna to the palm of his right hand for protection and to remind him of her love.

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


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