I noticed what appears to be a henna painting on my co-worker’s right arm; he recently visited Karachi and Dubai. I believed Dubai is where he had the henna painting, rode the camel, sand boarding, and smoked a hookah, all in one day.
I knew what it was because I recently read a Thai article in Koosang Koosom Magazine (photos below) about henna or mehndi, which the article describes the art of henna as the cultural symbol of love. My co-worker described the painting as the symbol of love and lust, he has scorpion henna. I asked him if it was painted by a female, and he said yes, and she is also a belly dancer. Interesting I thought and I didn’t ask him further.
According to Wikipedia, Mehndi (or Henna) is the application of henna as a temporary form of skin decoration, in South Asia, the Middle East, North Africa and Somaliland as well as expatriate communities from these areas. It is typically employed for special occasions, particularly weddings. It is usually drawn on the hands and feet, where the color will be darkest because the skin contains higher levels of keratin, which binds permanently to lawsone, also known as hennotannic acid, which is a red-orange dye present in the leaves of the henna plant.
The patterns of mehndi are typically quite intricate and predominantly applied to brides before wedding ceremonies (photo below). However, traditions in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sudan sometimes expect bridegrooms to be painted as well. In Arabic and Persian speaking countries, such as Morocco, it is done for any special occasion. It is done during the seventh month of pregnancy, after having the baby, weddings, engagements, family get-togethers, as well as many other reasons to simply celebrate an event.
According to the Thai article, this is an old age tradition, it is evidenced that Egypt were the first nation to have used henna painting because they discovered henna painting on a finger, and toe of a 5,000 years old mummy. Henna is used for hair coloring, mainly to cover gray hair, and also used as herbal medicine to treat skin problems. Therefore, it is highly likely that the tradition of henna painting later on migrated to India by means of merchants, and migration due to war.
In India, henna is first used as hair coloring, then later on used to henna body for various occasions, and mainly for beauty. It is even used for occasion such as Sati, an inhumane tradition where the wife is being burned alive on her husband’s funeral pyres, even before death, she still wants to henna painting for beauty.
Regardless of the reasons, if we were to view henna as an old age tradition of cultural design, you will see that henna is being used for various occasions, and the designs are intriguing.
Today, the tradition of henna painting is becoming popular amongst the westerners because tattooing is very popular, it is considered a body art as henna is viewed the same way, a body painting for joyful events, and they even take it up a notch by adding reflective colors, and sparking stones.
Unlike tattooing, the design of henna painting fades through time, which symbolically announces that nothing last forever, all good things come to an end but we still remember the memory of the good time, of having the henna painting, and looking forward to having another one.
I told my female co-workers that according to the ancient tradition, females that have henna painted on their hands will not have to do any household shores until the henna is faded, and all of a sudden, I had hands in front of me, they are ready for henna painting.