« You cannot imagine getting married without Mehendi !» These words spontaneously come to Hema, Sita's mehendi teacher, when she is asked to evoke the importance of Mehendi in Indian culture. The use of henna ephemeral tattoo, which name is "mehndi" in Hindi, gradually got ritualized: it was first used on a medicinal purpose but it is now applied before big life events, turning it into a major witness of the paramount steps of Indian Life.
Regarding wedding ceremonies, designing henna patterns on both arms and feet constitutes a symbol of satisfaction and happiness for Hindi people. It allows them to start a marriage with favorable omens. After several hours of contact with the skin, the henna turns into dark and reddish shades,which are sought after for the ceremony. Indeed, theses tones convey happiness and remind the bride's sari colour: blazing red. Spirituality and superstition constitute the main behavioral guidelines for local population and therefore Indian women would never consider ruling out this step in their wedding planning process. This intervention is traditionally organized on the night before the celebration and is called "Mehndi Ki Raat" in Northern India. Since "Raat" means "night", this custom is commonly translated by "Henna's night". The extent of the event usually goes beyond the simple fact of realizing henna patterns and eventually turns itself into a real meeting in which participate the relatives who accompany this ritual with songs and stories. Indeed, the task may be spread on several hours in order to entirely cover arms and feet with the required symmetry. According to Domi Houchard, a painter from Reunion, this all constitutes an almost therapeutic process to the bride who needs to be appeased and distracted before the ceremony.
Thus, our teacher Hema faced a very frustrating situation when it appeared impossible to her to find a skilled compatriot able to realize designs as good as her own, for her wedding. Indeed, she could not herself make patterns using both right hand and left hand with the expected . This anecdote perfectly illustrates the importance of the traditional application of premarital mehendi, to the extent that Hema still speaks about this episode with regret. Yet, this powerful symbolism has not always triggered and motivated the application of mehendi on Indian skins. Originally, only the medicinal virtues of the plant would justify its use, and today it is still used to treat stomach ulcers and to help to regulate corporal temperature. In order to do that, you just need to boil a few henna leaves and drink the water to increase the remission of an ulcer or to apply some leaves in your hand's palm to lower your body temperature in case of fever.
Henna is a plant listed under the Latin name of Lawsonia Inermis and grows under hot and dry climates, whether it may be in India, Morocco, Egypt, Iran or even Pakistan. The term Mehendi is used to designate the maroon paste destined for creating temporary tattoos and which can be obtained after drying the shrub's leaves and working on them until getting a powder. Furthermore, the habit of applying henna is remarkable by its duration. 5000 years ago Egyptians already covered their mummies' nails and hair with henna. Indeed, some prints were found on Ramses II's mummy. Some historians even stamp the date of the first use of henna to the days of the Neolithic city Catal Hoyuk, located in current Turkey, and founded in 7000 BC. The city gathered about 5000 inhabitants, which was a considerable urban area for this time. Henna was then mostly used within a religious context since it was certainly a part of the rituals linked to the cult of the deity of fertility.
Nevertheless, the context of the use of henna strongly evolved within the years, both symbolically and geographically. For instance, from now on in India, the custom is less spread in the South than in the North of the country, this being for cultural purpose but also for physical reasons: the skin colour being darker, it easily shades the design due to the lack of contrast. The geographical factor has also a role in the distinctions that can be noticed within the patterns represented in mehendi. Thus, Hindis will have the tendency to create figures inspired from nature by representing animals and plants, whereas Tamils would rather create circular patterns incrusted in their palms and tint areas on fingertips and the circumference of feet. This being said, they are all strongly convinced that mehendi constitutes a qualitative protection against negative forces. This is why it is so frequently used when women get ready for big occasions: when celebrating an event with splendor, people are always more likely to attract the venue of dark forces and bad spirits.
From a practical point of view, you have to be careful and not throw yourself recklessly into applying henna on your body. Indeed, this ephemeral tattoo induces some precautions, because even if they are extremely rare, allergies may be provoked by the paste on a skin which is not used to it. In itself, the plant can not generate any reactions, but the ingredients that are added to the powder, mostly eucalyptus oil, in order to turn it into the final paste, may sometimes contain chemical products eclipsing the original natural qualities of the product. This is why it is important to get information on the ingredients present in the paste.
At Sita we guarantee both the quality of our paste and the one of our teacher's skills. So do not wait anymore and come and learn yourself how to master this technic to be able to create your own patterns!