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The History and Practice of Henna Body Art

Henna body art has been used for centuries for weddings, religious ceremonies, and other decorative purposes. While it was originally used mainly in ancient Egypt and in India, today Henna is used around the world. Henna ink is created from a plant that grows in southern Asia, northern Australia, and Africa. The leaves are crushed to create lawsone, a type of pigment that includes special proteins. These proteins cause lawsone to stain the skin, making it the perfect ink to use for body art or for hair dye. While it originated in India and Egypt, henna art is popular around the world now. Many stores sell commercially prepared henna for hair dye and temporary tattoos.

Paintings dating as far back as 1680 BCE depict women with henna art on their hands and on the soles of their feet. Many of these pieces of artwork connect appear to be about the Night of the Henna, a religious celebration observed by many different religious people, including Christians, Muslims, and Jews. The celebrations involved using Henna to tattoo designs on the bride, and sometimes the grooms as well, before the wedding.


Henna tattoos are usually applied to brides in very detailed and complex patterns for good luck, beauty, and joy. Some of these designs took up to five days to completely apply. Today, the bridal designs in some parts of the world now involve glitter and other innovations as well as henna.


Henna and Weddings

Mehndi is the term used for the application of henna tattoos in India. It’s a ceremonial art form in which an artist creates different patterns and designs in henna ink on the bride. Often, it’s done on the hands and feet, although some cultures involve much more Henna. The groom is also sometimes painted. For example, in the area of Rajasthan, India, the groom’s tattoos can be just as complex as the bride’s. These tattoos are more than just wedding ornaments, though. They’re an important part of the wedding process.

Generally, the Mehndi ceremony is held at either the bride’s home or a hall on the night or a few days before the wedding. The bride and groom attend together. The artist or a relative applies the designs to the bride. There’s usually a lot of singing and dancing, especially among younger women, and most wear bright colors. While this event is important in many cultures, it’s especially important in Pakistan and serves as one of the biggest parties held by the bride’s family. In Bangladesh, the Mehndi celebration is split into two, one for the bride and one for the groom.

Henna has also caught on in the United States and other areas around the world. There is usually no religious connection, however. The brides simply love the look of Henna tattoos. Often, they will coordinate the designs in the henna with their wedding flowers. They ask for designs that will look good with their flowers and bouquets. Sometimes, all of the bridesmaids get henna designs on their hands.


The Differences Between Tattoos and Henna

Henna was often used in tattoos for various ceremonies and weddings because, while it does mark the skin, it’s not permanent. However, it still took several weeks to completely disappear, especially if the wearer was very careful and didn’t get the henna wet. Avoiding things like detergent, bleach, and certain oils would also keep the design intact longer.

A henna tattoo also doesn’t require any painful needles to apply. Because the ink isn’t injected under the skin, there’s much less chance of having an adverse reaction to it. Instead, Henna is created from a mixture of henna powder and acidic liquid like lemon juice. However, any small fibers have to be removed from the ink first. Once that’s done, the paste is created and allowed to sit. It’s then put through a fine mesh screen before being poured into a bag that serves both as storage and as an applicator. The artist will cut off a corner of the bag when she’s ready to create the design and may use a toothpick to make more detailed lines.

Like tattoos, henna designs can be created using a pattern, but in some cases, the artist simply draws freehand. Once it’s finished, the henna needs to be kept covered for upwards of 12 hours to allow it to set. Unlike tattoos, there are no creams to apply to the area, nor will it be particularly sore or painful.

Removing henna tattoos involves nothing more than resuming one’s normal bathing habits. The ink can be washed off earlier by using certain soaps and other liquids.


Additional Information on Henna

In addition to body art, henna can be used to dye hair anything from orange to dark burgundy, depending on the person’s natural hair color. It can also be mixed with other dyes to create different colors. Muslim men often use Henna for dying their hair, while women may use it to dye their nails.

Many people enjoy henna tattoos for everyday wear because they’re non-permanent. They can change up the designs every few weeks if they want to. Some people aren’t certain if they want a permanent tattoo or not, so they wear a henna one for a while until they’ve made up their mind. Some use Henna to “try on” different tattoos until they find the one they like.

In some areas and cultures, having a henna night has replaced having a bridal shower.

Henna artists were originally one of the lower social classes, but today, a talented henna artist can charge a lot of money for their work. It’s also seen as an alternative job for women in cultures where working outside of the home is very discouraged. Women often offer 24-hour Henna services around the holidays or pool their talents for large wedding parties.