The Mughals brought Mehendi to India as lately as the 15th century AD. As the use of Mehendi spread, its application methods and designs became more sophisticated. The tradition of Henna or Mehendi originated in North Africa and the Middle East. It is believed to have been in use as a cosmetic for the last 5000 years. According to professional henna artist and researcher Catherine C Jones, the beautiful patterning prevalent in India today has emerged only in the 20th century. In the 17th century India, the barber’s wife was usually employed for applying henna on women. Most women from that time in India are depicted with their hands and feet hennaed, regardless of social class or marital status.
Mehendi in Hinduism
Mehendi is very popular with both men and women also as a conditioner and dye for the hair. Mehendi is also applied during the various vratas or fasts, such as Karwa Chauth, observed by married women. Even gods and goddesses are seen to adorn Mehendi designs. A large dot in the center of the hand, with four smaller dots at the sides is an oft seen Mehendi pattern on the palms of Ganesha and Lakshmi. However, its most important use comes in a Hindu Wedding. The Hindu marriage season is a special time for Henna tattoos or ‘Mehendi’. Hindus often use the term ‘Mehendi’ interchangeably with marriage, and Mehendi is considered among the most auspicious ‘ornaments’ of a married woman.
Mehendi in the West
The introduction of Mehendi into the Euro-American culture is a recent phenomenon. Today Mehendi, as a trendy alternative to tattoos, is an in-thing in the West. Hollywood actors and celebrities have made this painless art of body painting famous. Actress Demi Moore, and ‘No Doubt’ crooner Gwen Stefani were among the first to sport Mehendi. Since then stars like Madonna, Drew Barrymore, Naomi Campbell, Liv Tyler, Nell McAndrew, Mira Sorvino, Daryl Hannah, Angela Bassett, Laura Dern, Laurence Fishburne, and Kathleen Robertson have all tried Henna tattoos, the great Indian way. Glossies, like Vanity Fair, Harper’s Bazaar, Wedding Bells, People and Cosmopolitan have spread the Mehendi trend even further.