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Henna and Mehndi: An Ethnic and Culture Analysis

Mehndi is the ancient art of henna body painting, and traditionally practiced in India, Africa, and the Middle East wherein the henna plant is believed to bring love, luck, protection, and good fortune. It is used for weddings, important rites of passage, and times of joyous celebration (Curtland, p. 64 2006). The art consists of drawing designs primarily on the hand and feet, while the arms, legs, face, and other areas of the body are decorated as well, without permanence of tattoos or scarification.

Mainly an art form or decoration in the West, for Moslems and Hindus around the world this form of body adornment is exclusive to women, with the process and preparation passed down in matrilineal fashion (Glasgow and Rice, 1007 p. 134). The art of mehndi mainly demonstrate the ethnical character of the individuals involved in the overall symbolism of the individual’s internal perspectives over the environment or the cultural implicated symbol associated to tribal functions or tribal imageries.

The traditions of body painting using henna has been passed down from generations to generations, and currently, the trend of henna painting has evidently been revolutionized, not only in traditional marketing scope, but also in neo-urban society. The fashion fad even considers the art of henna mehndi as an artistic means of revolutionizing the concepts of art and aesthetic revolution among such perspective. Evidently, henna mehndi has influenced not only the traditional tribal scale, but technically, even the urban trends of fashion, art and galore that are even considered now as a marketing prospects.

Scope and Limitations Discussion about the underlying definitions of henna mehndi, the symbolical attributes present in the art itself, determine the originations of such for of art considering the cultural aspect and traditions involved, and the possible implications of such trend in the marketing aspect. By providing cultural and social stands, the traditional art of mehndi henna body painting is the primary subject of the entire research. The following are the objectives imposed into the study in order to serve as the guidelines for conducting the research.

a. To be able to provide the exact nature and symbolical aspect related to Henna mehndi and the cultural backgrounds involved. b. To be able to identify, discuss, analyze and evaluate the issues concerning the subject of henna mehndi involving the positive affirmative and rebuttal points of the subject c. To be able to relate and provide the current implication of henna guided by the sense of practical applications in terms of marketing trends and economic gains Purpose of the Research

The prime purpose of the study is to provide the necessary awareness expansion in the ethnical traditions and originations of henna mehndi that somehow influenced the trend of body painting in the past and still continuously growing its trend. Furthermore, the study provides the marketing and economic implications of the fashion trends brought by such body art. Discussion Henna Mehndi: Symbolic Potentials The tides of immigrants from Africa and Asia must have returned to body mutilations their original normative marker status.

One might wonder whether the identification with the poor, misunderstood, exotic, naive and often helpless in our boundary-free culture is now carved in the skin as the identification for empathy by some individuals who are more capable than others of exhibiting shared positive or negative emotions (Myslobodsky, 2004 p. 234). The earliest reference to the use of henna is on a Syrian tablet dating from 2100 B. C. The tablet was inscribed with a legend that tells about a goddess of fertility and battle whose hands were decorated with henna.

Moreover, the legend also describes the use of henna for bridal adornment (Gay and Whittington, 2002 p. 1781). In many African societies, the bride enters a customary period of preparation for marriage. She receives beauty treatments including the placement of henna decorations in her hands and feet known for its power to protect, bring luck, and to provide material and spiritual wealth, henna is used in ceremonies having to do with the rites of passages (Fleetwood, 2003 p. 109). Mehndi is word in Hindi used to describe henna, henna painting, and the resulting designs.

Henna is well known as a natural product used to color and condition that hair and to make temporary tattoos. Henna painting is an ancient cosmetic and healing art whereby the leaves of the henna plant are crushed into a powder, then made into a paste that is applied to the body to safely dye the skin (Glasgow and Rice, 2007 p. 331). The patterns used in Mehndi painting are very elaborate, soft color, and issues a flattering skin tones; moreover, the elaborate patterns are usually done by women (Myslobodsky, 2004 p.

234; Merrill, 2005 p. 37). Mehndi actually refers to the oil the fine powder is mixed with, but can be also used with eucalyptus oils. Most commonly, the application consumes half an hour to one hour before the dye completes, and then, the art lasts for several weeks, gradually fading from the original red, gray, or brown (Merrill, 2005 p. 37). The process is absolutely painless and safe for the skin; in fact, the most common notion about henna is that it conditions the skin by beautifying the body (Myslobodsky, 2004 p. 234).

Mehndi tattoos are traditionally done in a variety of specific geometric figures that symbolize the thoughts of peace, courage, love and creativity. Mehndi is also the Persian name for the intricate art of painting the body with henna. Such colorful tradition is a sacred art that has been used by the ancient civilizations in magical ceremonies due to the painted symbols that are believed to be blessed with protection, good fortune, and transformation. The Egyptians used henna to color hair and paint hands and feet in this life in order for them to have this as preparation for the next life (Madeen and Roberts, 2005 p.

122). The Class and Culture Specificity In this traditions, not only is the decorative aspect is being portrayed, rather, it is a sanctification of the female body or the female mystery of life-bringer, for her hands touch the sky, while the feet point in the opposite direction and symbolize the underworld or death. Applied on special occasions, Mehndi gives a sense of illusion of life and its impermanence: fresh designs will fade but reincarnate in an endless ritual cycle of renewal.

During the ritual application, stories are told and the next generation is educated in the ways of their caste or tribe (Glasgow and Rice, 1007 p. 135). The earliest evidence of the cosmetic use of henna is from ancient Egypt. Traces of henna have been found on the hands of Egyptian mummies up to 5000 years old, as it was common practice for Egyptian women to dye their fingernails a reddish hue with henna. Today, the art of henna painting is to decorate the hand and feet of the bride for the wedding ceremony in Africa and other countries as well.

The art form of henna (derived from Arabic) or mehndi (derived from Hindi) varies from region to region, with varying designs that have different meaning for members of each culture, such as good health, fertility, wisdom, protection, and spiritual enlightenment. Indian mehndi involves fine, thin lines for lacy, floral, and paisley patterns covering entire hands, forearms, feet and shins, unlike Arabic henna designs that usually consist of large floral patterns on the hands and feet (Myslobodsky, 2004 p. 333).

The Mughals introduced mehndi to India and Pakistan from North Africa and the Middle East in the twelfth century where it gained popularity amongst the Rajputs and Mewar in Rajasthan. Over time, mehndi gained cultural significance and became an essential part of auspicious Muslim, Hindu or Sikh occasions, particularly weddings (Rutty, 2001 p. 166). The application of hand-applied henna paste designs, or mehndi, on women’s hands and feet is common in northern South Asia, a tradition shared with Arab countries and Iran.

Intricate designs are painted to celebrate occasions, such as weddings. Although mehndi has never been as common in the United States as in South Asia, by the 1990s, several Queens’s beauty salons offered mehndi application, particularly for a bride or female members of her wedding party. In the 1990s, henna painting was also popularized in music videos – as the painless tattoo – by the American popular singer Madonna; hence, its display in multiethnic festivals became common (Glasgow and Rice, 1007 p.

135). Bridal body decorators create geometric motifs out of henna paste, turning an ordinary pair of hands or feet into bejeweled slippers and gloves of sultry brocade. The palms, soles of feet, forearms, inner wrists, fingertips and the top of hands and feet are typically the areas that are decorated (Fleetwood, 2003 p. 109). These symbols and associated meanings are memorized in time and act as anchors for recall during the next application and eventually the next generation.

The gentle process of drawing on the instep and around the ankle, as well as the wrists and hands, is indeed hypnotic, and this altered state a great deal of information can be imparted (Glasgow and Rice, 1007 p. 135). Henna Mehndi: Practical Perspective The henna plant is a flowering shrub that grows 8 to 10 feet high and was originally found in Australia and Asia and along the Mediterranean coasts of Africa. The plant, also known as Lawsonia inermis, also grows mostly on dry areas, such as India, Pakistan, Iran, and North Africa (Gay and Whittington, 2002 p. 1781).

The flower of the henna plant is small, white, four-petaled, and sweet smelling; however, the part of the plant used to make henna powder is the leaves (Myslobodsky, 2004 p. 234). The leaves of the henna plant or shrub are dried ground into a powder, then mixed with water, lemon or limejuice, or oil to form a dye paste, while tea or other natural ingredients may be added to place color in the dye. Mehndi artists often experiment with ingredients for the henna paste and apply it with tools, such as toothpicks, orange sticks, cake decorators, or funnels made from plastic bags.

The mehndi artist draws intricate designs with the paste, which is left on for at least half an hour to one hour, then peeled or scraped off to reveal a reddish or brownish-orange design (Gay and Whittington, 2002 p. 1781). The smell modifications are combinations of earth, clay, chalk, and damp green leaves. Henna colors come in crimson, burnt tobacco brown, and sunset russet; although, black is not traditional henna color, many mehndi providers offer this color upon customer request (Fleetwood, 2003 p.

109). The mass-marketed objects that most visibly exemplify the new trend in U. S youth culture are style commodities, notably, mehndi. In the United States, the association of mehndi with women has been a motif that has been used in various ways: in performances of an exoticized femininity by a certain segment of New Age movements and youth subcultures, and in bolstering an imperialist feminist ideology about women in the East visible (Nguyen and Tu, 2007 p. 222).

Henna body mehndi art has become a mass obsession and a global business, as a popular alternative to the traditional, permanent tattoo. Since the late 1990s, however, dermatologists began to report allergic contact dermatitis, attributed to a chemical agent (paraphenylenediamine) that is added to produce a faster effect with so-called “black henna (Myslobodsky, 2004 p. 234). Equally, fashion has resulted in the spread of the art to the West with the creation of cheaper commercial forms of the dye. The outcome of this includes reported incidents of localized allergic reactions.

The application of henna preparations to the skin is also potentially lethal, notably for infants with inborn error of metabolism, such as phenylketunuria, and, although, no cases have been reported to date, the use of walnut powder in certain commercial henna preparations would constitute an anaphylactic risk for persons sensitive to nuts (Rutty, 2001 p. 166). The marketing of henna as temporary tattoos seems calculated to reconstruct mehndi as a painless, temporary alternative to tattoos while appealing to the current fascination with the body art.

Henna has thus been reinvented to fit within the parameters of popular American traditions, whether as New Age ritual, feminist beauty practice, bridal shower, or sex toy. Entrepreneurial body artists perform mehndi for a price in places as far-flung as Madison, Wisconsin, Tucson, Arizona, and Artesia, California, and companies such as Mehndi Mania, temptu, and Body Art sell do-it-yourself henna kits as part of their line of tattoo products (Nguyen and Tu, 2007 p. 222).

The price of tattoo existing in the market starts from a simple henna tattoo of 4 inches depending on the body parts concerned to $4, if per hand basis, $7, and if facial areas are to be tattooed, $16; and the overall price lists can go over a hundred dollars and more depending on the site and types of details according to preferences (Nguyen and Tu, 2007 p. 222-223). Conclusion The art of henna application has been considered as one of the ancient trends obtained from Persian or Hindu culture, which was earliest utilized by the Egyptian communities in their ritualistic behaviors and superstitions.

The process of mehndi utilizes henna plant as the primary medium, specifically the leaves, in order to create the desired texture. The mehndi artists provide geometrical designs most commonly placed in the hands, feet, forearm, and other parts of the body with decorations symbolizing various virtues and other symbolisms. Mehndi art is characterized by fine and detailed geometrical designs that usually range from different colors; hence, the characteristics of Mehndi initiated the trend for its exposure in the fashion industry.

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