Henna has been used as a natural hair dye by both men and women for over 6000 years. It has adorned the hands of women in the Mediterranean and in East Asia since the Bronze Age. It is still used today in all of the South Asian cultures for designing intricate patterns on the hands and feet of Brides and wedding guests.
The henna designs take many forms, with many designs taking inspiration from nature. Leaves, petals, flowers and stems are common features of many henna designs.
The centre-piece picture above are my own henna-adorned hands from my wedding day in 2008. There are various old wives’ tales in South Asian culture surrounding henna and weddings. The most common saying being, the longer and brighter the bridal henna remains, the longer and brighter the marriage. It’s a sweet thought, but most henna-adorned hands begin to fade within a week and after a fortnight it’s all but a memory. Other wedding ‘tricks’ include hiding the initials of the Bride and Groom within the intricate detail of the Brides henna, and the brides’ sisters and friends look on as the poor Groom has to search his new wife’s hands for his initial.
I love a bit of henna on my hands at weddings, Eid, and sometimes just because. My three-year-old daughter has a fascination for all things wedding-related, and for her a wedding isn’t a wedding without henna.
My daughter is a tomboy through and through, coming home with different stains on her clothes, ripped jeans from climbing or rolling around in mud, knots in her hair as she refuses to sit still for even 60 seconds while I drag a comb through her hair. In spite of all of that she will happily sit for half an hour while she has a simple henna design etched onto her tiny little hands, and then she’ll sit mercifully still for another hour while it dries. She’s afraid to run around in case she smudges the beautiful patterns. I’m afraid in case she stains my sofas.
So what is it about henna that so enchants us? I honestly don’t know, and I don’t think I’ll ever find the answer to that question. In any case, I’ve got better things to do… where’s that mehendi tube…