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 Mehandi, Mehendi, Mehndi or Heena

Mehandi is the Hindi word for a beauty treatment involving the crushed leaves of the henna plant. The leaves of this plant, when mixed with essential oils and water and applied to hair or skin, leave a beautiful reddish-brown stain that can last from several days to several weeks.

Also called mehandi or henna, mehndi has been a tradition in India, Africa, Eastern Europe and the Middle East for thousands of years. Women in these cultures ornament themselves with mehndi for weddings and other celebrations. The mehndi paste is piped onto the skin in ornate patterns, then kept moist as long as possible with lime juice, eucalyptus oil and sugar to allow the stain to deepen.

Mehndi is one of the sixteen adornments bestowed on a bride during Solah Shringar. In this way, mehndi marks the rite of passage of marriage in a girl's life and her initiation into womanhood.

The intricate mehndi designs, which are painted on both the hands and feet, may contain a secret language. Designs include geometric and figurative motifs such as flowers and leaf and vine patterns, and traditional hindu religious symbols. Mehndi symbolizes satisfaction and happiness in marriage. This belief is connected with its red color which is also the color of the bride's dress. The process of applying the designs takes on a ritualistic aspect. The mehndi is applied to the bride's hands and feet the night before the marriage ceremony by the bride's female relatives who spend several hours applying the designs. The process may take anywhere from three to eight hours depending upon the complexity of the designs and whether or not both the hands and feet are decorated.

The henna plant is common in India and is used in rural areas as a hedge. Rural women may pick fresh mehndi leaves and prepare them for the application. However it is also sold in powder form. The plant is prepared and made into a paste. Lemon juice is added to the paste to intensify its red color. Other ingredients are added to increase smoothness and viscosity. The finished paste is placed into a cone. During the process of laying out the design, the cone does not touch the skin, but rather, the henna is laid out onto the skin like a thread. The flow of the henna must be controlled in order to produce an even line. The thickness of this line determines the amount of die from the henna that

penetrates the skin. After the henna design is laid out on the skin, a mixture of lemon and sugar is dabbed over the design to set it. The longer the design is left undisturbed, the deeper the color will be. Later the henna is removed by rubbing the hands together, revealing a reddish color where the henna touched the skin. Our designs lasted for different lengths of time. Mine lasted a few days.

In addition to adornment, henna plays a role in medicine. We were told of its cooling effect and conditioning properties on the skin. Thus, it can be used to treat burns and sores.

Henna grows in hot climates and can be found in most Middle Eastern countries such as Iran, Pakistan, Syria, Persia, Morocco, Egypt and India. We have found Indian henna to be the best for mehndi. The henna plant (Lawsonia inermis) is 8 to 10 feet high and its leaves are dried and crushed to make henna powder. The natural dyeing properties found in henna are tannins. Synonyms for henna are henne, Al-Khanna, Al-henna, Jamaica Mignonette, Egyptian Privet and Smooth Lawsonia.

The history and origin of henna and it's uses is hard to track, with centuries of migration and cultural interaction it is difficult to determine where particular traditions began, though there is some historical evidence that mehndi as a ceremonial art form was originated in ancient India. But others believe the Moguls introduced the use of henna to India in the 12th Century. It has been used for at least 5000 years as a cosmetic and for it's supposed natural healing properties. There is documentation from archaeologist that in ancient Egypt that henna was used to stain the fingers and toes of Pharaohs prior to mummification.

The art form of applying henna (known as mehndi, mehandi or mehendi) varies from region to region. The varying designs can mean different things to each culture, such as good health, fertility, wisdom and spiritual enlightenment.

It spans different cultures and religious traditions, thus making it possible to recognize distinctions in cultural style. Arabic mehndi designs are generally large, floral patterns on the hands and feet. Indians doing mehndi use fine, thin lines for lacy, floral and paisley patterns covering entire hands, forearms, feet, and shins. African mehndi patterns are bold, large geometric designs, usually black. After the henna paste is removed Africans apply a blackish paste of ashes, ammonia compounds and other corrosives to get the henna stain to turn out blackish. This is poisonous and is not a recommended procedure as there have been reported deaths from this procedure. We can only assume the reason they would go to these risky lengths is the natural color that henna stains, dark brown to dark orange, does not show up as well on very dark skin.

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