Mehndi Design: The Fascinating Story Behind Henna Art

The extraordinary evolution of Mehndi design, commonly known as henna, has seen the exquisite art form grow from traditional bride and groom motifs to decorative patterns including glitter, gemstones, colour and much more. In recent years, contemporary henna tattoos and henna art have taken the Western world by storm, having been featured in the likes of Vogue and embraced as a major fashion trend worldwide. There’s no denying that Mehndi design has had a phenomenal impact on the world. With this thought in mind, it’s important to understand the incredible story behind the henna art, starting with the Mehndi ceremony – where simple Mehndi design and pattern comes to life.

What is a Mehndi ceremony? 

For those questioning: What is Mehndi? The Mehndi ceremony is an intrinsic part of Hindu and Sikh bridal tradition that generally takes place the day before the wedding. Although the bride and groom’s family observe the ritual in their respective households, the Mehndi ceremony is a female-centric event involving awe-inspiring floral decorations and exquisite colour. 

Of course, the main focus of the Mehndi ceremony is Mehndi design itself. The bride-to-be’s chosen Mehndi pattern generally boils down to personal preference. The pattern can be either elaborate or a simple mehndi design, and is applied on the front and back of the bride-to-be’s palm, forearm, and from the feet to just below the knee. During the Mehndi ceremony the bride-to-be’s fingers are also often adorned with thick layers of henna paste, originally made from dried powdered henna leaves. The Mehndi ceremony is exceptionally important for the bride-to-be and her family for a multitude of reasons. The detailed ritual is one of the oldest Indian traditions and represents the holy bond of matrimony. It is a lively celebration of affection, welcoming the bride-to-be into the first part of her marital journey. 

The Mehndi ceremony is not solely a display of enviable style. Different Mehndi designs have different meanings in relation to marital blessings. Some represent hope, others luck, joy and happiness. Observed in many parts of India and neighbouring countries, the Mehndi ceremony is, in summary, an invaluable and familial symbol of love.

The Origin of Mehndi and Henna Design 

The exact origin of henna is generally unclear. Despite this, it is a well-known fact that the ancient art form has been practiced in India, Africa and the Middle East for thousands of years. Some claim that Egypt is where it originated, while others believe that its birthplace is in India. As henna designs have become more intricate and meaningful over the generations that they have existed, so has the sacred tradition of Mehndi in Indian culture. 

The Evolution of Mehndi Design and Mehndi Pattern

Mehndi design comes in a vast number of forms and patterns and has evolved distinctively over time. Traditional Mehndi designs include stunning floral patterns, minimalist trailed patterns, criss-cross details, peacock motifs, vines, and more. Contemporary henna tattoos are generally more decorative, adorned with ornaments, crystals, sparkles, and gemstones. They also include a diverse range of colour. Traditionally, henna tattoos were applied by a female member of the bride-to-be’s family or a talented neighbour. Today, henna tattoos are applied by professional henna artists, providing high quality, intricate and unfailingly on-trend designs. 

Over time more and more Mehndi designs have been created and styled according to specific cultures and celebrations. As most will know, henna is an important part of modern-day fashion. Worn by people of all cultures and with distinctive artistic flourish, henna tattoos are renowned for being trendy, celebrity-backed and a popular form of creative expression. Mehndi is now worn by the masses in less formal settings, not strictly during bridal ceremonies and religious festivals.  

Mehndi design around the world

Of course, Mehndi design and henna is not an artform solely based in India and Indian culture. Every culture and region of the world creates henna in its own unique and powerful way. Arabic henna designs are known for their large size, while African henna patterns are known for comprising bold, geometric shapes. Indian henna tattoos often feature fine lines and weaving, floral patterns, while contemporary henna in Western parts of the world can even include quotations, dye and tropes of the mainstream tattoo. 

The Medical Benefits of Henna

Many are surprised when they discover that henna has a diverse range of health and healing benefits. Naturally made from the leaves of Henna Tree, henna designs are unlikely to cause any unwanted chemical reactions or skin problems. 
Henna is best known for its cooling effect, positive impact on hair health, and anti-ageing properties. It can be used in a wide variety of ways, including in its dye form used to paint the skin, as well as in oil, bark and seeds. Henna is given to people in need as an anti-inflammatory and antibacterial form of natural medicine. If you can wear it on your wedding day and heal from it simultaneously, then it’s definitely worth trying out. Of course, one of the best things about henna is its lack of permanency. If you don’t like your design, or grow tired of it after a while, then you only have to wait two-to-three weeks for it to fade.

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