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Mehndi is an ancient traditional form of hand and feet decoration. It creates a deep crimson color that shines on the skin. Mehndi is closely connected to the tradition and culture of India.

Mehndi is prepared by applying a paste called Henna. The red dye is extracted from the leaves and twigs of the henna shrub, found in regions of hot climate in India, the Middle East and North Africa. The shrub is ground into a powder and mixed with hot water to form a dark-green paste. The paste is packed in a cone for easy applycation to the hands and feet. The origins of henna have been traced back to North Africa, on the hands of Egyptian mummies, dating back to the year 5000 B.C. Henna was introduced in India in the 12th century, during the rule of the Mughals.

Mehndi is a symbol of prosperity and good fortune. It was believed that applying Mehndi to the hands and feet would keep off evil. Mehndi is particularly important during ceremonial occasions like weddings. A special day is allotted in a traditional Indian marriage for the application of henna on the bride, as well as family members and friends. Mehndi is used on numerous other occasions like Holi, Diwali, Rakshabandhan, Teej and Nagpanchami.

The designs originate from the practices followed on these occasions and represent specific objects, dresses, floral designs, leaves, flowers and birds associated with the festival. Popular designs include the scorpion, peacock, lotus and the fish. Although the art is used primarily for decoration today, the use of mehndi is expressive of a distinct culture and the bond created among women on such occasions. There are two varieties of mehndi, Hina Mehndi and Rajani. Of the two, Rajani known for its fragrance and bright shine. The minute and more intricate designs require the use of this finer quality paste.

Apart from decoration, henna is used as a dye for hair and for healing sores. During the hot Indian summers, henna also acts as cooling agent when applied to the palm of the hands and the soles of the feet.

Updated on 7th June, 2005

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