February 2015 : Just around the corner of an alley, in Jodpur, at the top of a typical blue house, I was able to get the peacock Mehndi I was looking for!
Mehndi or Mehendi refers to a brown paste used for these well known temporary tattoos.
It’s made from dried leaves of the Lawsonia inermis plant, found in the hot and dry places of India, otherwise known as Henna.
The leaves are then ground into a green powder, then mixed with tea to acquire its very distinct darkish color, and finally with lemon juice as a pigment fixer.
Mehndi is a very old custom, apparently dating back as far as the 5th century in India.
As for miniature painting, Moghole invasions during the 12th century had a profound influence on the practice of Mehndi.
The Rajput rulers of Udaïpur (men and women alike) adorn their bodies (hands and feet) with such tattoos.
The patterns become progressively more sophisticated, and end up as an inherent part of the daily life, be it for religious or aesthetic purposes, but also for medicinal ones (healing and nourishing for the skin, it’s even used on horses, cows and camels).
Mehndi can also be found in wedding ceremonies:
The Hindu patterns inspired by nature (plants and animals...AND PEACOCKS)
Tamil patterns, circular design with solid-colors on the tip of the toes and fingers.
It’s quite usual in India to come across women with Mehndi ornaments, often simple, sometimes elaborate, always beautiful. This portrait, captured by Nirvan, of a shy girl from the Muslim district in Johdpur is a perfect example.
Here is Didi, or “big sister”. Nirvan and I can use that name as a sign of respect, according to Indian tradition. Despite our basic knowledge of the English language, we manage to bond, and quickly end up with a cup of Chaï in our hands, spiced up with a healthy dose of good laughs. This warm acceptance feels like family.
I finally get the peacock pattern across my arms, the JOY!
Bird drawings are said to be a symbol of love for your significant other.
Both sides of my arms are swiftly and deftly decorated. Didi is efficient and dexterous. It’s pretty clear she knows the ins and outs of her design.
As a bonus, here’s a little video showing her skills a bit better :
Once she’s done, the Mehndi is already dry and is already getting darker.
I will wait until the next day to remove the paste though: it is said the longer the paste remains on the skin, the darker the tattoo. The darker the tattoo, the greater the omen!
My design is unique and quite nicely executed, nearly worthy of a wedding in my opinion. And that’s the experience talking! But more on that below
I’ve stumbled upon a few tourists displaying pretty simple Mehndi, so it all comes down to what you actually want...and where you get it done!
As mentioned above, I’m familiar with wedding Mehndi, since I had one done for my own ceremony. It didn’t take place in India, but in Mauritius, 2 years ago. Nirvan and I got married according to the Hindu tradition, hence my -amaaazing- wedding Mehndi!
We sadly don’t have a video about it, but here’s a small animation instead!
Designs are different for weddings, more elaborate, so they take longer to complete and are also huge. Mine was, surprisingly and I would go as far as shockingly... Peacocks. Deal with it!
It took the better part of 3 hours to apply the Mehndi. I stayed in the Sun as long as I could afterwards, to dry it. After enough time, the dried paste crumbles, and you can safely remove it all with a gentle scratch and your arms and legs.
No shower before sleeping though! You have to keep the Mehndi intact. No small feat here, I had to coat my legs and arms with coconut oil and on top of it, put socks on all my limbs...with 30°C outside, I clearly had issues keeping warm already, am I right?
All this has a purpose though: give the Mehndi its darkest possible shade.
As I like to say, «Fire Mehndi weds happily!»
Indeed, some artificial Kevlar and oil based darker Mehndi, very unhealthy for your skin, become more and more common.
According to tradition, the bride is supposed to have the biggest, most amazing Mehndi , up to the elbows and from feet to knees, so none can ignore her on that important day.
After multiple ceremonies, the Mehndi paste turns a deep shade of gre...red.
Being generally discreet, I wanted to avoid the huge Mehndi treatment.
Let’s be realistic for a moment though, there is nothing discreet nor shy in a Hindu wedding!
So ladies, revel in these colors, bring out the flower garlands, glitter up, take pride and confidence in that gorgeous Egyptian make-up and WHAM! blind them all with your awesomeness, Bollywood style!