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What is Mehndi?
Mehndi is an ancient art form in which henna is used to create intricate designs on parts of the human body. Derived from the leaves of the evergreen plant Lawsonia Inermis, henna contains a natural chemical that interacts with the keratin of the skin and hair to give it an rust-red coloration. With its beautiful delicate patterns, mehndi is worn for religious and cultural celebrations by women in India, the Middle East, and Africa. Traditionally mehndi is applied to the hands, wrists, arms, feet, and ankles, but it can also be applied to other parts of the body. In India extremely fine lacy, geometric, or floral designs covering entire hands, forearms, feet, and shins are prevalent.

Facinated Art
History of Mehndi:
The art of mehndi dates as far back as 3000 BC. The ancient Egyptians applied henna to their nails and feet. From Egypt and other African countries the art of mehndi spread to the Middle East. It was probably taken to India either by the Persians when Mahmud of Ghazni invaded India during 1001-26 AD, or by the forerunners of the mugal empire around 1500 AD. The one thing that can be said with certainty is that mehndi became an integral part of the cultural traditions of many countries in this part of the world.
The Art of Applying Mehndi:

Intricate Embossing on Delicate Hands

The basic ingredient in mehndi are the leaves of the henna plant Lawsonia Inermis. The dry leaves are crushed into a soft powder and mixed with water, lime juice, and tea to form a smooth paste. Usually the paste is prepared the night before it is to be applied. Before the application of mehndi the skin is washed thoroughly with soap and water and conditioned with either eucalyptus oil or a special mehndi oil. Then the henna paste is applied either freehand, or with some aids like a toothpick, stencil, or an improvised cone similar to that used for icing cakes.
After the design has been applied, the paste is allowed to remain on the skin. Care is taken to not let it dry too much as it tends to flake off. A mixture of two parts lemon juice and one part sugar is applied at regular intervals to prevent this from happening. It is recommended that the paste be left on for at least four hours, although the longer it stays on the darker and more intense the color will be.

Delicate Touchings
Once the henna paste has been removed, the final design may last any where from two to six weeks, depending upon the quality of henna used and how often the hands and feet come in contact with soap and water.
The Indian Tradition:
Mehndi is deeply ingrained in the Indian tradition. Although applied on other occasions as well, it is an integral part of the wedding ceremonies and is almost synonymous with the marriage of a woman. A special time is set aside for the application of mehndi to the hands and feet of the bride-to-be. Usually the ceremony takes place on the night before the actual wedding. The bride will be surrounded by all the female members of the household, as well as the friends, she has grown up with, and close relatives who have come to attend the wedding. There will be much singing and dancing interspersed with bouts of teasing the bride. It is an atmosphere full of joviality, nostalgia, and a tinge of sadness. The ceremony will probably last into the week hours of the morning when, finally, the women will retire for a few hours slumber only to wake up for a hectic day ahead for the wedding. The bride will usually sleep with the mehndi paste still on her hands and feet and not wash it off until the next morning. This is crucial, since the longer the paste stays on, the darker is the ultimate color. The next morning, when she does wash her hands and feet, everybody will come to admire the intricate patterns and the deep vibrant color. The darker the color the more her mother-in-law and husband are supposed to love her. Traditionally, as long as the bride has mehndi on her hands, she will not be asked to do any household work or chores at her mother-in-laws house once she reaches there after the wedding. So, the bride has her own special interests in trying to keep the mehndi paste on as long as possible to get the darkest possible color!

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