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Discovering the ancient art of henna

One of the secular traditions of South Asia, Middle East and North Africa is the art of henna. In these different areas, this kind of art was developed more or less in the same period. But of course in different ways, starting from the elements they mix to create the henna paste itself to the shapes and the lines they draw on their tattoo.

Only during this last century, henna body art had a big boom as touristic to-do thing, and spread all over the world becoming unmissable exotic fashion to try at least once being in holidays in India or Morocco. Before this big commercialization, the execution of this art was reserved for the women during religious ceremonies, marriage and fertility celebrations.

hands drawn with henna
wife with henna at the wedding we assisted at Agra

 

While Jordi was in Sri Lanka, I stayed in India doing volunteer work. There, Hema, the older sister of the family that was hosting me introduced me to this beautiful and characteristic form of art, during one of her lessons in a cultural center.

First of all, I learned that to be able to realize so detailed and elaborated draws you cannot use just pure and natural henna. In fact, this one (red colored) allows you to make only simple geometric shapes as circles and lines. But, for the paste used to do the so-known henna tattoo, it is necessary to blend different products.

The mixture is not difficult to do and all the necessary ingredients are natural and easily to be obtained, not as strange ones as I thought in the beginning.

woman-working-on-the-henna-paste

 
The components needed to make the paste for the tattoos are:

  • Henna powder
  • A tea spoon of sugar
  • 3-4 drops of lemon
  • 3-4 drops of eucalipto oil
  • Half glass of water
  • A little part of aloe vera, that will make stick the henna
  • Glove oil, to make it last longer (not essential)

 

Once you have mixed all the elements in a container of plastic or glass, what will be left to do is to take a rectangular piece of plastic sheet and roll it into a cone shape (like the ice cream one). Now take the henna paste you just did and fill out the cone with it. Shake it a little to make it distribute in an uniform way all over the cone and it will be ready!

Before using it, it would be better to leave the henna resting about six to eight hours at ambient temperature. But there is no problem if you don’t have the time and you want to use it right away.

Now comes the best and funniest moment: when your artistic and imaginative part can take over and you can go wild creating patterns, draws and figures on yourself or on your friends’ skins. Maybe before you start, it will not be so bad idea to make some practice on a paper. Just to avoid a big mess on the body, since this powder henna tattoos will last around eight to nine days. Less of course than the ones realized with the natural henna, that will last about fifteen days.

drawing-with-henna-in-paper
henna-paste-ready-to-be-used

On the left, Hema drawing in the paper. On the right, the henna paste once is finished.

Traditionally, exist two types of henna tattoos: the Arabic style and the Indian one. But nowadays it is taking hold a third one called Indo-Arabic henna style, that as the name says is a combination of the two old traditional styles.

The Indian design technique and the Arabic one are so different. Maybe I could even say they are the opposite. The Indian one, also known with the name of mehndi, is characterized by intricate and repetitive lines and patterns. There are no gaps between the draws and sometimes you can find figures of musical instruments and wedding scenes. On the other side, the Arabic style have a more defined design, with many more spaces. It’s characteristic for having bold lines, leaves and floral draws.

henna-tattoo-on-both-arms
henna-tattoo-on-neck

And this is the result of the beautiful work of Hema :)

Besides all what I already said about henna tattoo, let’s not forget to say that the henna plant have a lot of health benefits, some for the skin, as the regulation of the body temperature, blood circulation and works also as sunscreen.

So go to the market, buy the mentioned necessary items and try to realize by yourself henna paste, practice a little and enjoy drawing on your body or someone else’s skin.

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