Mehndi is an Indian term to indicate a temporary tattoo done with natural red henna on hands and feet during the wedding ceremony, for good fortune and protection. Initially reserved for kings and priests of the ancient world the practice of tattooing with the Henna reached many people in the modern era.
Even today, women of many Middle Eastern countries use tattoos on the hands and feet as instrument of beauty and seduction of their boyfriends and husbands. In Rajasthan in northwest India, the mehndi art is a folk culture, and it is common for women to make drawings as refined as those of the newlyweds.
The first historical evidence of the use of henna, to beautify the human body dates back to Neolithic times, the 7th millennium BC in present day Turkey, only to reappear later in Ugarit in Syria with the first written records. Some Assyrians texts of the seventh century BC describe the wedding preparations of a young woman with the palms of the hands and colored nails with henna.
Started between Islamic customs from the sixth century AD, the henna followed the Islamic expansion, and this was widely used in Spain until the Inquisition forbade the cultivation in 1567. The magnificent designs fell into disuse in Europe until the twentieth century, while in North Africa and the Middle East enjoyed broad support to the same, when women chose to abandon them to emulate western women but, in the meantime, prepared to retrieve them.
In India, these decorations are called Mehndi and their tradition is unbroken, from the ladies and deities depicted in the frescoes of Ajanta Caves, 400 AD to the present day. Tradition has it that it applied the day before the wedding during the mehndi ceremony, in fact, that is an integral part of the wedding, whatever is the religious affiliation of the bride and is a kind of bachelorette party, with all the friends and relatives of the girl, who while the designs are created on hands, arms, feet and legs, sing traditional songs or dance choreography imitated from Bollywood hits, but any celebration or party is a good reason for the Mehndi, in India.
Today they are available for sale also preprinted adhesive plastic forms, sort of stencils applicable on the body and can be covered with the henna paste, which is sold in cones ready for this purpose. Once the paste is dry, the stencil is removed as the residue of henna gets dry and remain on the body of an intricate design, but will have little in common with the sophisticated art done by freehand local professionals.
It is believed that the darker the color will be obtained deeper love that bind the couple, but according to other versions it reveals that instead of the bride's mother is happy to be rid of her. Sometimes, among the arabesques are submitted by the initials of boyfriend and the challenge is to find a good way to break the ice after the wedding ceremony, between spouses who still sometimes never before had the opportunity to be alone. But even in this innocent game hides a trap of tradition as it says that if he can not find them, it will mean that it will not be him to wear the pants in the house.
The dancers of Bharatanatyam, the classical dance of India, paint large circles on the palms of the hands and feet, as well as to cover the entire first joint of each finger. While the design applied to the skin fades in a few days, varying depending on the frequency and intensity of the washes to which it is subjected, as well as depending on the composition of the paste of henna lemon juice helps the persistence and intensity of the coloring. It is good to remember that on the nails, as well as on the hair, the dye is absorbed instead in an almost indelible way and entirely eliminated only with regrowth.
Nowadays the traditional designs are enriched with the addition of iridescent dust or diamonds, or with the technique called Zardosi, the name of a classic type of embroidery and which provides that the profile of the drawings to be made before the black henna and that at a later time, are used with the classic red. But there are products that, if not good, can cause allergies and heavy consequences.
The beauty of these temporary tattoos meant that the tradition is maintained intact in India to this day and which, revive it back even at home among the younger generation. Rock stars like Madonna, Bjork and Beyonce have exhibited over the years past intricate arabesques made with the henna. Beware of black henna as mentioned, can cause severe dermatitis.
The henna is a plant with medicinal qualities and are a centuries-old tradition in India and inevitable in many festivals, both Hindu and Muslim. Among the many ceremonies of the complex Indian matrimony, there is also the ritual of mehndi, in which the young future bride surrounded by her friends and by the women of the family is tattooed with henna.
While the more experienced among the present or a professional adorns the hands and feet with henna paste, older women introduce her to the world of love, revealing the secrets to being a good wife and instructing her on how to behave in order to please the husband. The more intricate the design of the tattoo, the longer the execution, the greater is the knowledge transmitted.
You need not be married to be able to get henna tattoos. Most of the girls learn this art since childhood. In the period preceding diwali many schools and associations organize mehndi competitions. Sitting for an hour letting the delicate thread of paste you adorn in your palms is very nice, if you like the smell of henna. If you choose to make the mehndi in a beauty salon, or better yet, a friend's house the Indian tattoo becomes a splendid occasion to chat in female intimacy.
The tattoo lasts from two to four weeks, which fade slowly. Once you have finished the application you have to wait at least a couple of hours for it to dry, and after removal it is best to avoid washing with soap until the next day, to allow the design to be fixed on the skin. The orange color of the design is finished and just gets darker in the following days.
The implementation requires experience and good manual. The paste is prepared by mixing in a metal bowl or glass, natural henna powder with water until the mixture has the consistency of a paste. You have to let the dough rest for at least 12 hours. Adding sugar and lemon juice promotes better grip and fixing of color, especially in cold, dry climates. To make the design plastic cones filled with the paste are used. Smaller slit can give more delicate designs. In India there are cones filled with henna paste ready are commercially available to have almost completely replaced the preparation of the mixture.
There are endless designs and patterns. In India, almost nothing is devoid of symbolic value, so many of the motifs have meaning, although most of the times the choice of tattoo is purely aesthetic. A checkerboard pattern indicates the possibility of the game and is on the hands of the newly married brides, who just entered a new phase of their existence.
The peacock symbolizes beauty, while the swan success. The birds are generally seen through the intermediary between the earth and the sky. Dragonflies and butterflies are symbols of rebirth and change. Petals and flowers stand for happiness and joy, and leaves and vines are symbols of devotion and vitality, and are suitable for tattoos during marriage. Drawings of eyes are meant to repel the evil eye. The paisley motifs, as well as being very beautiful decoratively represent fertility and good luck.
The advantage of mehndi is its impermanence, where you can choose different tattoos from time to time, experiment with combinations of motifs or symbols that are suitable to your current situation. Be patient before you remove the dry henna from the skin, so that the color can achieve the maximum intensity.
There is a proverb that says the darker the mehndi, your mother-in-law will love you more. Perhaps it is not so fundamental, but in India the new bride often go to live with the in-laws and so a good relationship with the husband's mother is not only essential to live peacefully, but also is an effective strategy to win the heart of the groom.