Monday, January 27, 2014

MEHENDI: color and scent

Henna: हेन्ना 

Freshly applied henna paste

Drying henna paste. Once it dries, it starts flaking off.
the herb - Lawsonia inermis - that brings color and perfume to life, is a symbol of joy and celebration in many cultures around the world. The flowering plant grows best in hot climates and dry soil and has a cooling effect when its leaves are crushed into a paste and applied on the skin. Cooling effect aside, it emits a lovely and I think intoxicating scent of well-being. The reddish-brown stain  henna paste leaves on organic surfaces is due to the lawsone (reddish-brown dye) present in the plant, which reacts and bonds with the protein on skin or hair it's applied on.

The color beneath the paste. 
Henna, also called Mehndi मेहंदी in Hindi and Urdu, has been in recorded use for the past 9000 years. It's reason of usage varying per age, culture and region of the world. 

Because of its natural medicinal properties, past and present desert cultures use/d it as a topical salve for burns, stomach ulcers, headaches, as a fever-reducer, sunblock, for skin diseases and as an hair dye. Because of the lovely-scented temporary tattoo it left on skin, Henna started being used as a decorative medium too. Elaborate and repetitive motifs of flora and fauna or geometrical designs are usually applied for a number of occasions from engagements and weddings to happy religious occasions, or simply for luck and cheer.
Darkening color.

I, for one, love to apply henna on my hands and feet and even sitting around for hours on end to that effect doesn't irritate me. Once the paste has dried and scraped off, an orangish stain is left behind which slowly darkens into reddish-brown (black in some cases) over three days as it oxidizes. OMG! Have I mentioned how divine it smells? It's a strong herbal scent with just a hint of metal, a teensy hint. I find it incredibly soothing. 

It takes about one to three weeks for the stain to fade completely. "They" say the darker a bride's mehndi color, the greater her husband will love her. Or, the longer a bride's mehndi takes to fade, the better she will get along with her mother-in-law. 

Mehndi can get much darker than this, but I like it so.