Mehndi or “Mehendi” or henna is a paste that is created from the powdered leaf of the henna plant and is made into designs for men and women. Mehndi is derived from the Sanskrit word mendhika. The use 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 women to wear it. Haldi (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 is the local variant of henna designs in India and neighboring countries such as Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, women use mehndi for festive occasions, such as weddings, religious events and traditional ceremonies.
While there is some controversy over the origins of the use of henna as a dying agent, the earliest clear evidence of henna application on the body appears in Egyptian mummies whose hair and nails were stained with the reddish brown tones of henna. Botanists believe the henna plant, Lawsonia inermis, originated in Egypt and was carried regularly to India where it was used since at least 700 AD for decorating hands and feet. Historically henna has also been used for medicinal purposes, to dye cloth and leather as well as hair, to color the manes of horses and other fur of other animals.
Practiced mainly in India and Pakistan, mehndi or henna is the application of as a temporary form of skin decoration, popularized in the West by Indian cinema and entertainment industry, the people in Nepal, Bangladesh and the Maldives also use mehndi. Mehndi decorations became fashionable in the West in the late 1990s, where they are called henna tattoos.
Mehndi in Indian tradition is typically applied during special Hindu weddings and Hindu festivals like Karva Chauth, Vat Purnima, Diwali, Bhai Dooj and Teej. In Hindu festivals, many women have Henna applied to their hands and feet and sometimes on the back of their shoulders too, as men have it applied on their arms, legs, back, and chest. For 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. Muslims of Indian subcontinent also apply Mehndi during their festivals like Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Adha.
Mehndi is a ceremonial art form which originated in the ancient Indian subcontinent. It is typically applied during weddings – for brides. In Rajasthan, the grooms are given designs that are often as elaborate as those for brides. In Assam, apart from marriage, it is broadly used by unmarried women during Rongali bihu.
Muslims in Pakistan also started to 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 to their hands.
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