Mehndi’s historical and cultural significance in the subcontinental context
Mehndi or henna art is it is now commonly known has been a part of the sub-continental culture for a long time now. It is used by women to decorate and draw different designs on their hands and feet. Mehndi art is generally done on festive occasions, specifically weddings. It isn’t just the bride that adorns her hands and feet with Mehndi but most women attending the wedding can also be spotted having made the art on their skin.
Perhaps Mehndi’s importance can be gauged by how the sub-continental weddings now have a specific day allotted during the wedding called “Mehndi ki raat.” There are different variations of the function in different countries. But this is a day dedicated to the art of Mehndi where the bride gets designs drawn on her hands and feet by professionals who are apt at the art. Family and friends also get together to get the temporary art form on their bodies.
Applying Mehndi on the hands and feet finds cultural roots to celebrate festivals. But now it has gained momentum and is also used instead of tattoos. Once the mehndi is applied on the skin, the darker the color, the better it is considered. Some even believe the darker the mehndi’s color on a bride’s skin, the better and more loving the mother-in-law will be. Although it is a myth but this also finds its roots in the sub-continental culture.
Mehndi has a rich albeit controversial history of origin. But the majority believes the earliest form of mehndi was found in Egypt where Mummies’ nails and hair used to be dyed with the plant from where mehndi is derived. It is called Lawsonia inermis and was then believed to be regularly transported to India sometime around 700 AD.
The process of applying the mehndi has been made easier with technological advancements. Earlier women used to grind fresh henna and then apply the paste on their bodies through different tools. Now the mehndi is prepared and can easily be found in the market in a cone-shaped plastic packing. The front pointed part of the cone is cut enough to get the mehndi flow going and then applied to the body parts in different designs, mostly floral. It must then be given time to dry – used to be 24 to 48 hours – but now it dries within a few minutes due to the chemicals added to it. However, in the earlier days it was considered the longer the mehndi will be applied for before being washed, it will leave a stronger and darker print on the skin that is going to last for long too.
Mehndi has had many myths surrounding it depending on the area it was used. However, it has and still remains a harmless art form that is revered by many because of its cultural significance and popularity. Now even Hollywood celebrities have been seen using it and it is considered a temporary form of tattoos. Now a day’s Mehndi is very popular in Toronto Ontario and bride night photography shot every detail.