Introduction to Mehndi
Mehndi, otherwise known as henna, is a paste associated with positive spirits and good luck. Indian Wedding tradition calls for a Mehndi ceremony to be held the night before the wedding as a way of wishing the bride good health and prosperity as she makes her journey on to marriage. The Mehndi Ceremony is organized by the Bride’s family bringing together the female components of each side. While Mehndi is mainly for females, male relatives are invited to join in on the party that comes after the Bride has completed her henna.
The core significance of applying Mehndi is to utilize its natural medicinal herbal remedies, cooling the body and relieving the Bride of any stress before her big day. Henna is applied to both the hands and the feet as a means of cooling the nerve-endings of the body, preventing the nerves from tensing up.
Why Henna ?
Henna body art is made by applying henna paste to the skin: The lawsone in the paste migrates into the outermost layer of the skin and makes a red-brown stain. Whole, unbroken henna leaves will not stain the skin; henna will not stain skin until the lawsone molecules are released from the henna leaf. Fresh henna leaves will stain the skin within moments if they are smashed with a mildly acidic liquid, but it is difficult to form intricate patterns from coarse crushed leaves. Henna leaves are usually dried, ground, and sifted into a fine powder which can be worked into a paste that can used to make intricate body art. Commercially available henna powder is made by drying the henna leaves and milling them to powder, then the powder is sifted. Henna can be bought at a store in a plastic or paper cones. The powder is mixed with lemon juice, strong tea, or other mildly acidic liquids. Adding essential oils with high levels of "terps," monoterpene alcohols such as tea tree, eucalyptus, cajeput, or lavender, will improve skin stain characteristics. The henna mix must rest for six to twelve hours so that the leaf cellulose is dissolved, making the lawsone available to stain the skin. It is then mixed to a toothpaste consistency and applied using a number of techniques, including resist techniques, shading techniques, and thicker paste techniques. Henna paste is usually applied to the skin using a plastic cone or a paint brush, but sometimes a small metal-tipped jacquard bottle used for silk painting (a jac bottle) is used.
Once applied to the skin, lawsone molecules gradually migrate from the henna paste into the outer layer of the skin. Though henna's lawsone will stain the skin within minutes, the longer the paste is left on the skin, the more lawsone will migrate. Henna paste will yield as much dye as the skin can easily absorb in less than eight hours. The paste tends to crack and fall off the skin during this time, so it is often sealed down by dabbing a sugar/lemon mix over the dried paste, or simply adding some form of sugar to the paste. This also increases the intensity of the color. The painted area is often wrapped with tissue, plastic, or medical tape to lock in body heat, creating a more intense color on the skin. The wrap is worn overnight and then removed.
When the paste has fallen off the skin or been removed by scraping, the stain will be orange, but should darken over the following three days to a reddish brown. The final color can last anywhere from two weeks to several months depending on the quality of the paste. Soles and palms have the thickest layer of skin and so take up the most lawsone, and take it to the greatest depth, so that the palms of the hands and bottoms of the feet will have the darkest and most long-lasting stains. Steaming or warming the henna pattern will darken the stain, either during the time the paste is still on the skin, or after the paste has been removed. Chlorinated water and soaps may spoil the darkening process: alkaline may hasten the darkening process. After the stain reaches its peak color it will appear to fade. The henna stain is not actually fading, the skin is exfoliating; the lower, less stained cells, rise to the surface, until all stained cells are shed.