Henna, known as Mehndi in India, is an ink made from the henna plant and used in Indian and other Eastern cultures for the creation of temporary tattoos. These henna tattoos are applied in celebration of a variety of festivals and ceremonies, especially in Indian weddings and religious gatherings like Diwali.
The color of the henna dye is a rich brown, mahogany hue that stains the skin’s pigment to leave a stain that lasts for several days. These “tattoos” applied to the hands and feet highlight different cultural symbols and reflect Indian tradition, history, and mythology.
This specialty style of art goes back over 5,000 years ago. One of the reasons this style of tattooing is so popular goes beyond the intricate designs but more so the expression of happiness and luck that these markings provide. In addition to just getting these tattoos, people use henna tattoos in weddings, Blessingways, battles and childbirth.
Because henna designs are known for their intricacy and beauty, many chose to permanently tattoo these images onto the skin in order to preserve the image. The designs are made of delicate line work, woven together to create artwork that reflects Indian culture. Much like a mandala design, which is often included in henna tattoos, the lines interconnect and expand out, forming various symbols. Common images used in traditional designs are beaming suns, flowers and mandalas, arches and dotted patterns, peacocks and their plumage, as well as lotus flowers.
Shapes such as triangles, circles, and stars are included as representations of the divine and supreme deities in Hinduism, the ancient religion of India. Triangles are symbols of Shiva and Shakti, two of the most prominent deities in mythology and serve as a representation of their awesome power.
Diamond shapes often accompany the triangles, emphasizing the magnitude of the gods and goddesses as well as the journey towards enlightenment. Sun, moons, stars, and other celestial images are also common and represent love and partnership, often made prominent for wedding ceremonies.
The lotus is one of the most often included symbols in henna designs but also in Indian art and myth. The lotus is a representation of perseverance as well as beauty and in some cases, fertility. The overlapping petals work well in henna designs because of the natural intricacy of their form. These flowers are usually embellished with expanding lines in the background, often creating a scale-like pattern that is capped with arches and other flowing line work. A large lotus with many petals is referred to as the thousand-petal lotus and represents the cosmos and its connection to the soul.
If you were to ask a henna tattoo artist, they would tell you this expression of art is completely freehand and spontaneous. They use what they are feeling at the time to create this art on the body.
In this article, we want to dive into the history of this ancient art form to help others understand the importance of henna tattoos in their native countries and what it means for others wanting to wear this on their bodies.
Mehndi, or henna, goes back over 5,000 years as previously stated but it was also described in the Hindu Vedic ritual books. Henna tattoos were used on men occasionally but for the most part, this was used only for women’s palms.
For henna designs, there are many different directions one can go. These might include Indian mehndi designs, Pakistani designs and Arabic mehndi designs. When applying these designs in times like these, you tend to see them on the hands and feet of women but might also see them go up the forearm or leg from their starting points.
The origins of the use of the henna leaf paste as something to die things with have been argued but as far as most believe, it began in Egypt with the use of mummies. The henna plant paste was used on the hair and nails of these mummies. Then from Egypt, the henna plant was taken over to India and it has been being used for the hands and feet of women since.
In general, henna tattoos are used for decorating the skin in a temporary manner. It gained popularity in the West through the use of henna tattoos in Indian cinema and other forms of entertainment. Mehndi wasn’t referred to as henna tattoos until the late 1990s when it made its way to Western culture.
When is Henna Used?
We usually see henna tattoos used in celebratory manners. In Indian tradition, henna tattoos were used during Hindu weddings and other Hindu festivals including Bhai Dooj, Teej, Diwali, Karva Chauth and Vat Purnima. In these Hindu festivities, the women will usually have henna drawn onto their hands and feet. In the few cases where men have a henna tattoo, they will have it applied on the arms, back, chest and legs. The reason women get henna tattoos on the back of the hands and feet is because these places naturally have less pigmentation and therefore, make the henna stand out more.
In Hindu weddings, the process of Mehndi is done at the bride’s house or a hall a few days before the wedding. Here the bride and groom get these done together and it’s a big celebration before the wedding. The henna tattoo is usually applied by a professional and initials are usually inserted somewhere in the henna design. This whole process symbolizes the good luck and fortune of the couple taking the step into their next chapter of life.
In times like today, you don’t see as many henna tattoo artists. What this means is you do see a lot more henna kits. This means you don’t have to have a specialist to do it if you don’t want to. However, there is something special about having it done by somebody trained in the art.
During the process of having a henna tattoo applied, the artist will generally use a stick, paintbrush or plastic cone to apply the paste. After the paste is applied, it is going to take around 20 minutes for it to dry and start cracking. At this point, the henna design is moistened with white sugar and lemon to make the color sink in further.
At this time, the area with the henna paste applied is wrapped with something like plastic or tissue to lock in the moisture and body heat. All of this happens to make the paste stain the skin in a darker fashion. After the skin is wrapped, it can stay wrapped overnight if one wishes to get the most out of the ink. However, it can be as quick as 2 hours.
Once the wrap is removed, the henna tattoo will look dark orange or pale. It will begin to darken over the next 24 to 72 hours as the process of oxidation takes place. When the oxidation has run its course, the final color will be a reddish-brown color and can stay on the skin for up to 3 weeks depending on how long it was wrapped, and the quality of the henna paste used. If someone wants to extend the longevity of the henna tattoo, they might use moisturizing oils like coconut, sesame seed or other natural oils.
We hope that by reading this article, you understand the history of the henna tattoo more than you did before you came here. The henna tattoo has a great deal of meaning to many but more so in the Hindu religion. When applied correctly, the henna tattoo can be such a beautiful symbol of love and happiness.
If you are looking to get your next tattoo and aren’t sure who to visit, let us know. The team at Tattoo SEO has a great deal of experience in matching up customers to tattoo artists. We want to see your vision come to life so let us know if you have any questions.