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Mehndi or henna is a paste that is bought in a cone-shaped tube and is made into designs for men and women. Mehndi is derived from the Sanskrit word mendhika. The use of mehndi and turmeric is described in the earliest Hindu Vedic ritual books. It was originally used for only women's palms and sometimes for men, but as time progressed, it was more natural for women to wear it. Haldi (staining oneself with turmeric paste) as well as mehndi are Vedic customs, intended to be a symbolic representation of the outer and the inner sun. Vedic customs are centered on the idea of "awakening the inner light". Traditional Indian designs are representations of the sun on the palm, which, in this context, is intended to represent the hands and feet.

For over five thousand years, henna has served as a symbol of good luck, health and sensuality in the Arab world. The plant has been associated with positive vibes and provides a link to an ancient age full of good and bad spirits, Baraka and Jnoun. Generations of women have used a paste made primarily of dried ground henna leaves to cover their hands and feet with designs ranging from simple shapes to intricate geometric patterns designed to ward off evil, promote fertility and attract good energy.

While there is some controversy over the origins of the use of henna as a dying agent, the earliest clear evidence of henna application on the body appears in Egyptian mummies whose hair and nails were stained with the reddish brown tones of henna. Botanists believe the henna plant, Lawsonia inermis, originated in Egypt and was carried regularly to India where it was used since at least 700 AD for decorating hands and feet. Historically henna has also been used for medicinal purposes, to dye cloth and leather as well as hair, to color the manes of horses and other fur of other animals.