Mehendi mystique

Zanita Careem unveils...
Body painting or Mehendi is the in-thing in fashion today

Body painting or Mehendi is the latest thing in fashion. Traditionally mehendi was developed among the poor women from Asia, Moroco and Iran who could not afford jewellery when they were getting married but still want to look glamorous and decorative their wedding day.

In Sri Lanka body painting has become a hit. Women paint their hands and legs with Mehendi on their wedding day, a custom among the Muslims. Madonna, Liv Taylor, Naomi Campbell have all become Mehendi fans. We have recently seen Madonna with Mehendi tattooing done in her body. She had stunning designs displayed on her hands in her recent video Frozer. The choice of designs reveal different things about the wearer.

A lotus is a symbol of purity while a peacock stands for passion and coconut is for fertility.

Henna has traditionally been regarded as having healing powers.

Mehendi is Henna natural red dye made from the dried leaves of the henna plant.

Meanwhile every bride wants the best she can get on her wedding day, and mehandi is no exception. The ceremony itself, though not elaborate, is a significant part of the pre-wedding ceremonies. Here the mehandi paste is brought from the groom’s house by his sisters and female relatives who then stay on at the mehandi ceremony.

It is a time for female bonding. Men have no role to play in the ceremony and are kept at a safe distance.

The mehandi applying ceremony itself takes some hours to complete as the finely intricate designs are drawn on her hands and feet which have to remain still till the whole process is over. Her initiation into a new role begins. As a bride she will step into her new home, in a different environment, and will be leading a life involving myriad roles — that of wife, daughter-in-law and later mother; the older relatives and friends of the family talk to her about her future responsibilities. They tell her how to go about tackling them and advice her on blending harmoniously into her new environment.

The youngsters sing and dance, poking fun at the bridegroom’s family. With change becoming an accepted event, while the basics of mehandi remain the same, lots of interesting nuances have been added to it. The bride might choose to get an armulet painted on her arm, or a lovely design around her navel or her neck. One bride even wants to get a lovely tapering design painted down her fair back.

Some mehandi professionals add a bit of black mehandi to it, too. As the mehandi dries, a mixture of lemon juice and sugar is dabbed on to it, again to darken the colour. Once the paste dries completely it is scraped off and an application of the oil that keeps pickles from spoiling will darken the colour.

Another way of getting the mehandi really dark, is to hold the painted hands above a tava (skittle) that has cloves being heated on it. And the truly dedicated bride will not wash her hands till the next morning, by which time the colour would have had a chance to get as dark as it possibly could.

A cooling substance, Mehandi is used extensively in hot countries, especially among pregnant women. Just as each wedding has different traditions, the mehandi applications too are different and unique. In Africa, the mehandi patterns are bold and rather geometric as they first make patterns with tape on their hands and arms right up to their elbows. Once the design is ready, the henna is applied all over the taped designs in one layer. When it dries, the pattern looks like nothing we make in India.