Traditional Henna Art – Just an art or much more?

An art of Henna painting by females is an old tradition in many countries such as India, Africa, Indonesia, Turkey, Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries for over 9000 years (Al-Snafi, 2019). Henna symbolizes fertility and has been used cosmetically and medicinally. It’s not a newly emerged culture and henna traces have been found in the nails and toes of mummified pharoahs (Al-Snafi, 2019; Sturgell, 2011).

Henna is actually applied over hands or body by making a paste from the powder of dried leaves of Lawsonia inermis and the Hindi name is “Mehndi”(Chaudhary, Goyal, & Poonia, 2010). The term Mehndi comes from Sanskrit word Madyantika (thus became Mendika/Mehndi/Medika) meaning “which gives colour”. Henna is an Arabic word meaning “to dye red” that was used to decorate the nails, hands, arms and feet (Chaudhary et al., 2010). Lawsone, a chemical constituent of this plant is used in synthesis of many useful anti-cancer compounds (Singh & Luqman, 2014).

Henna has been in use for thousands of years as a medicine, a perfume, an aphrodisiac and was even used as a form of currency. It is known to have a very good anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant properties (Badoni Semwal, Semwal, Combrinck, Cartwright-Jones, & Viljoen, 2014).

Topical application of Henna oil in combination with Neem and Tulsi oil has been clinically proven for the management of psoriasis (Morya, Vinita, & Bahadur, 2017). Henna leaves have good anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory properties, has also been widely used for burns, bruises and other skin conditions (Gupta, Sharma, Anand Pandey, Gupta, & Mujhalda, 2018; Jothiprakasam, Ramesh, & Rajasekharan, 2013).

I had learnt about the benefits of this herb in Ayurveda but thought to explore the traditional and cultural value of this herbal art.

Henna night in bride’s house is a very common and popular ritual ceremony in India, Mediterranean regions, Middle Eastern regions before the wedding. The Henna patterns are beautiful and unique. The designs are very intricate and mostly based on nature (Chairunnisa & Solihat, 2018).

The flowers represent happiness, paisleys represent fertility, vines represent devotion and vitality and design of animals such as peacock represent beauty

Many individuals create their own patterns and designs as per their choice and desire.

To me, this traditional form of art therapy is like a mindfulness exercise as this secretes feel good hormones and I feel the sensation of love, happiness, and spirituality. The Henna session always takes me back to my childhood memories and reminds me of celebrations, wedding ceremonies, festivals, or other auspicious days where me and my cousins applied henna art on each other’s palms. In fact, even without any occasion, quite a few times we had gone to the henna artist to get this art done on our hands just to cheer us up. Mehndi art session work as an expressive art therapy for me, my family and many of my friends.

This ancient art of Henna or Mehndi gained popularity in the West in 1998 after the release of Madonna’s music video “Frozen” where she had a “Om” patterns of henna tattoo on her hands. Unfortunately, adulteration and substitution also started as people started substituting the pure henna powder to a chemical hair dye para-phenylenediamine (PPD) sold as a black Henna and rapidly stains skin black and has become a major health concern around the world. This is an allergen and can cause severe allergic reactions (Chen, Nkosi, Combrinck, Viljoen, & Cartwright-Jones, 2016).


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