Mehendi – Art and Tradition

As the festive season of Gods and lamps winds down in the Hindu Calendar, India’s “sixth” season and most prolific industry begins, and that is the great big Hindu-wedding season. This year it has me thinking of two things – the Hindu custom of fasting for the long life of one’s husband, i.e. Karava Chauth and the ritual of applying henna. Hence I decided to dedicate two posts to these two topics.  I hope it gives you some food for thought!

Before it can be used as adornment, henna begins in the Earth as a Tree and its journey continues as its leaves are plucked, treated and dried. These are in turn ground, resulting in a dark olive green powder. This powder is mixed with tamarind water to create a ready to use paste. The application of natural henna on the hands and feet of the Indian bride is a tradition that has garnered much influence from the Arabic world in recent times, but has its roots in Ancient India, Hindu Scriptures and Sanskrit civilisation. Most importantly it is rooted in the philosophy of Rasa, or ‘flavour’.

For a Hindu, be it  – a worker, a merchant, a priest, or royalty – man, woman or child, all must experience and partake of the Nine Flavours that life has to offer. These 9 Rasas may be experienced across a spectrum of potency and wholeness, but experience them we all do. There are many scholars, guides, and philosophers who have engaged in discourses about the 9 Rasas within the context of Aesthetic Theory and the Performing Arts, however, their manifestations and expression is not limited to the stage, the novel, the dancer or the musician. All 9 of the Rasas are open beyond the theoretical, they are –

Love, Comedy, Fury, Compassion, Disgust, Horror, Heroism, Wonder and Peace

And are for all to touch, smell, feel and taste in this lifetime, through this body.

Mehendi, the art of the intricate designs constructed in various patterns resulting in temporary tattoos of orange, burgundy and auburn hues, have become an expression of the Sringara Rasa, or, the ‘Flavour of Love’. There are 16 components to the Sringara Rasa, Mehendi like all the others is aimed at engaging all our senses, to seduce and satisfy.

The Mehendi Ceremony is about the coming together of all generations. It is a celebration of the manifestation and joining of the masculine and the feminine energies. As everyone participates in having the Mehendi applied they are acknowledging the love that surrounds them. They are colouring their hands to signify their elation and ecstasy. Upon application the viscous paste is cool to the touch and the process of design making hypnotic to the viewer. Once the artists complete their handiwork, the mehendi is allowed to dry, and as the green flakes of henna crumble from one’s hands a new design is revealed. The orange and red begin to peak out through the cracks like beacons of light for the lovers gaze.

There are those that believe the depth of this orange colour is indicative of a Mothers/Mother-in-law’s love, for me every aspect of this tradition speaks of love – so what are you waiting for? Get Mehendi-ed!



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