A Glance into the Art of Henna

Zaian F. Chowdhury
Published : 23 Jan 2016, 12:23 PM
Updated : 23 Jan 2016, 12:23 PM

As a child, I was awed by its artistic form; how delicately the artist curved the lines forming intricate waves and petals that bridged together a stunning masterpiece.

My earliest memories of mehendi are sharply laced with its all too familiar earthy scent, gracefully contouring my aunt's hands the night before her wedding festivities commenced.

Minimalist lines paired with tiny florals are all it takes. The use of henna, according to Egyptologist G. Elliot Smith, dates back to Ancient Egypt over 6,000 years ago. Much like my very own grandmother, the Princess Ahmose-Henuttamehu would also dye her hair with henna.

In this day and age in South Asia, we're no strangers to the magic of mehendi.

From Eid to weddings, henna has made its mark on all our lives. The demand for henna art has grown to such lengths that henna artists with the entrepreneurial bent have been sprouting up all over social media, willing to cater to the thousands of hands and feet waiting to be adorned.

Kazi Natasha of Mehendi Shoily tells Stripe that she was already booked for her services for this summer's weddings by the winter of last year.

"To be very honest, I am quite busy with henna throughout the year. On both Eids, I don't even have the time to breathe," she says.

While she did not intend to start a business, the demand for her art skyrocketed to the point where she began offering her services professionally in 2010. Like many other henna artists, Natasha did not consciously begin to develop her skills.

The overwhelming narrative is how they started off with the passion and drive for art that translated quite fluently through their hands.

"There was a big interest in floral patterns when I began, but now people are more inclined towards intricate Indian patterns.

"They would want their hands to mirror each other, but now want the patterns to be more diverse."

The tradition of henna has humbly rooted beginnings. Dola Khondokar, a henna art enthusiast, shares with us a memory that is all too common for most girls growing up in Bangladesh.

"I remember when I was younger, my mom would put on a simple circle on the centre of my palms which was actual henna paste with a toothpick or a matchstick."

Right now, henna art has roots of influence in a wide array of patterns and designs. These designs vary from India to Pakistan to the Middle East.

"I guess the designs back then were more geometrical. Simple lines and circles and simple shapes. And nowadays, especially if you see brides, you'll see they have very floral patterns. Leaves, flowers and peacocks all over!"

The culture of henna has evolved above and beyond the horizons. We see it all around us. From orange beards and locks of hair, to the hands and feet of South Asian brides, henna transcends all.

Henna's very stylistic features are so unique, that it has also marked its presence in Western cultures in the form of white henna — an adhesive substance specifically adapted for the purpose of henna art.

Henna was used for its cooling properties as people would dip the palms of their hands and the soles of their feet into henna paste. For as long as the stain remained on their skins, the cooling sensation would linger on through days of heat.

There is beauty in how human beings can transform elements of practicality into art, and henna art is nothing short of spectacular.

Amidst the hundreds of weddings that winter has invited us to, and every bride you've taken a picture with, have you noticed the patterns on their palms?

They're never the same, and always unique.