The Art of Mehndi

mehndi, hennaMehndi, or henna, is the art of decorating one’s hands with a staining plant extract, a kind of freehand temporary tattoo. You see it in the Middle East and southeast Asia (especially the Indian subcontinent), and the tradition is most commonly part of a wedding’s festivities: As in the U.S., you and your mother/sisters/aunts/friends have been doing a lot of preparation leading up to your wedding — the mehndi ceremony forces everybody to sit still and do nothing for a while.

Mehndi paste is made from the ground leaves of the henna plant. You can actually mix your own if you have the leaves and a rough mortar and pestle. But it’s much easier to buy mehndi cones (kind of like tiny baker’s piping bags) — not only are these ready-made, but the fine tips are better for detail work, and the paste contains additional oils for a really dark, long-lasting result. You let the paste dry on your hands for as long as possible (overnight, even), and the warmth of your skin will activate the staining agent.

Typical patterns include geometric designs, flowers, peacocks, paisley — if you are getting married, your two palms may depict a man and a woman facing one another in profile, or contain your husband’s name. The designs may be as intricate (and continue as far up your arm) as time and patience permits.

This particular photo is from my own wedding.

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20 Responses to “The Art of Mehndi”

  • Pau says:

    OMG that’s beautiful!!!I’ve always loved and admired Mendhi art since i was a kid and saw a girl at my school wear it. i’ve never had it done tho, but would love to.

  • Erin says:

    Just gorgeous, Mrs. Karla!

  • Sanae says:

    That is really pretty!
    Ill be moving to the States soon and will be on the look out for a Henna artist shortly for my upcoming July wedding. Will definitly keep your picture for reference.

  • Lorin says:

    Your wedding Mehndi was beautiful!

  • Amy says:

    Wow! That is so neat, and so pretty! Thanks for sharing Karla, you are awesome.

  • Lakshmi says:

    Hi Karla! That’s beautiful! I am Indian and have enjoyed mehendi all my life.. :) Isn’t it so cool how the mehendi artists just seem to weave these designs out of thin air?! Hope you are having?had fun in India!

  • Martha says:

    That is stunning! Thanks for sharing, it is always fun to learn something new about “the arm”.

  • Laura says:

    This is such a beautiful tradition!

  • IndoorKitty says:

    Karla, may we get a picture of what it looked like once you washed the paste off? How long did it stay on you? I had left mine on overnight, and it faded over two weeks. I was sad when my hands looked normal again…
    take care! -IK/AA

  • Kaoru says:

    That reminds me of getting henna done during Earth Festival growing up. I absolutely loved it, and even tried to start doing it on my own, but I could never get the formula right, and since I run cold, the staining was never dark enough for my liking *sigh*.

    That mehendi is gorgeous. I bet it was stunning when set.

  • Marta Fernandes says:

    That’s very, very beautiful!
    My tour package to Egypt included visiting a nomadic tribe that applied Henna on the hands of the visiting tourists. Unfortunately I was sick that day and had to stay in bed. How I regret it.

  • azza says:

    Got my hands and feet “decorated” with henna too, during my wedding and special occasions. love the smell too.

  • Rae says:

    Oh my goodness, Karla!! That photo is absolutely amazing. Your hands must have been so breathtaking in person :)

  • Ruth says:

    OMG Karla, your hands looked stunning. I would love to have that done on my hands all the way up my arms, it must be so relaxing and what a gorgeous end to the process.

  • Vanessa says:

    OMG! I’m always so mesmerized at the detail of the artwork–very pretty!

  • Lisa R says:

    Wow, love these posts on Indian beauty, Karla!

  • Eileen says:

    When I was planning my wedding, one of my students, a young girl from Pakistan, brought her mother, grandmother, and aunts to my house for tea and mehendi. Although I couldn’t speak Urdu and some of the ladies couldn’t speak English, we all had a delightful afternoon. That was 30 years ago, but I remember it as if it were yesterday :-)

  • waffo says:

    I never comment even if I love your blog but these hands are so stunning that i have to say it ! It’s really beautiful (but i don’t know if i would have the patience to wait :) ).

  • Saku says:

    So pretty. I use henna on my hair, it’s good.

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