Henna, also known as mehndi, is the ancient art of bodypainting with paste made from powdered leaves from the henna plant.
The use of henna for decorative body art was first documented in ancient Sumerian texts, but since the plant is native to the a wide geographic area throughout the Middle East and India it is likely that people used it without writing about it. Traditions, recipes and patterns all spread along the trade routes across India, the Middle East, North Africa and into Moorish Spain (until the Spanish Inquisition!)
Traditionally, the hands and feet are painted before important celebrations (like weddings), and the painting process is a festive occasion as well. Usually a women’s art, some cultures also henna the hands of men on the eve of their weddings.
Patterns vary from culture to culture…in India, hands and feet are covered in intricate, lacy designs. In North Africa, more geometric patterns are preferred. In Pakistan, the initials of the bride and groom are hidden in the mehndi on the bride’s palms; it is said that if the groom cannot find the initials, the wife will be the family boss.
Henna has been used to decorate the skin and hair for nearly 5,000 years — and has been found on the hands and feet of Egyptian mummies!
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