It is the wedding season. Most people would say an Indian wedding is incomplete without the Mehendi Function. Bollywood Weddings made this art Internationally famous. Rarely would I meet someone who has not heard about it. Lots of traditions, stories, folklore and songs are known for Mehendi; as it’s called in our local languages.
Henna Art is not only popular in India but also in the Arabic Countries. Women simply love to adorn their hands and feet with mehendi. In fact, in some families, even men apply Mehendi. Of course, the designs are different and it is more of a custom for them unlike it is for women. Henna artists charge depending on the intricacy and size of the design.
There is a good chance that you might have noticed a very striking similarity between my artwork with henna designs. It is also a possibility that I do more Ink Artwork, Doodle Art, Mandala Art and Zentangle Art because of my fluency in Henna Art. I learnt this art from my mom. She had learnt it in her youth before marriage.
Henna is a plant-based paste put into a cone and used for external application. The herbs and oils blended in the paste create a red-brown-black colour pigment on the skin after it dries. In that sense, it is like the ink of the tattoo. It also has a nickname ‘temporary tattoo’. Further, Henna is a traditional dye used to colour. In olden times, people also used it as a hair dye. Henna is known to have a cooling effect on the skin.
I learnt traditional designs as well as Arabic designs. Designs are also referred to by the main motif that makes them popular. ‘Motif’ is the term referred to a shape that is filled with patterns. A mehendi design consists of main large shapes filled with intricate repetitive patterns. For example ‘Dot design’ is the one with only one big dot in the centre and the tips. It reminds me of ‘Alta’. Alta is also a dye applied similar to Mehendi but it is made from beetle leaves. The designs are applied using a stick or cotton and hence are not very intricate.
Traditional Mehendi in India would mean filling the whole hand with the design. For weddings, brides apply mehendi starting from their elbow and filling the whole palm as well as on the backside. Similarly for the feet. Arabic mehendi designs are like a long trail concentrating on the central axis. Usually, the designs are forms of birds and flowers. Nowadays some artists include human figures and portraits in their designs too.
This henna paste applied on the palms is then kept overnight to dry. We then scrape it off and clean the hands with oil, usually eucalyptus oil. This gives a good smell. Hehe… I know some people don’t like the smell while others really love it. Anyways the point is, the longer you keep it, the better the colour. And then there are some fun traditions that go with it too! Like darker the colour stronger your love bond and so on.
How it all began? Once while cleaning the drawers I stumbled upon my mom’s henna art books. It instantly grabbed my attention and I asked her to teach me this art. First, she asked me to practice motifs from her book. Thereafter, she asked me to practice some common patterns that are used in combination to make designs.
In the beginning, I drew all the designs in the outline of my own hand on paper with a pen. After practice, the pen was replaced with the mehendi cone. Many people draw designs on acrylic sheets with the mehendi cone before doing it on someone’s hand. This helps beginners as well as those who want to try out a new design. Once proficient we can then start applying professionally for someone.
Making the Mehendi paste and the cone is an important step in getting a good colour. The fresh the paste the better. Making a good cone helps when creating the designs or applying mehendi. The pressure applied produces thick and thin lines. The cleaner these lines the better the design. Further, the paste should stick to the hand to produce consistent colour. A mehendi artist will always have some extra paste stuck on her hands because the cone leaked or popped some extra.
I have used the same cone-making method to make cones for piping chocolate or icing on cakes and ceramic designs for mixed media and murals. I hope you understand how I actually connect to this art form that made it easy for me to learn other things. It gave me the hand training that I require to draw these intricate designs. We also get books with mehendi designs easily in the market. They are affordably priced.
Here’s a little secret, we get readymade mehendi cones in the market as well. If one does not know how to make the paste from scratch most of us buy this cone, open and remix the paste well and fill it in a fresh new cone. This makes it simpler. The professionals get together and make the paste as well as their own cones. Last but not the least this art requires a lot of patience and being able to sit still for hours.
Having said all that what if I were to tell you I don’t practice this art anymore? I don’t have pictures of my work either. That is the truth. My paternal family does not consider mehendi auspicious and we don’t apply it in any of our ceremonies. With time as I understood their customs and beliefs, I stopped applying mehendi myself as well. Now it is mostly in my other styles.
But I definitely recommend everyone to try it at least once – both applying it yourself and to someone. Earlier when we didn’t have professionals to apply mehendi, it was always the ladies in the village who would make little designs on the bride’s hands and feet. That way the whole hand would be full and everyone would get a chance. That makes it an art for everyone. Have an Arty Week!