Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Henna Use As Adornment & Healing in Muslim Tradition

Henna occupies a unique place in the Moslem world.

Botanists believe the henna plant, Lawsonia inermis, originated in Persia. It grew extensively in Egypt and was carried to India where it was used since at least 700 AD for decorating hands and feet.  Some sources claim that the Moguls took the use of henna to India in the 12th Century C.E., centuries after use in the Middle East and North Africa. There is evidence to support that the tradition of mehndi originated in North Africa and the Middle Eastern countries during ancient times.

One of the earliest documentations of henna use comes from ancient Egypt, where it is known to have been used to stain the fingers and toes of the Pharaohs prior to mummification. 

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. In many eastern places, henna is thought to hold special medicinal or even magical properties. It is used to help heal skin diseases, prevent thinning hair, and cool the skin to reduce swelling in hot climates. It is made into a beverage to heal headaches and stomach pain. Newly purchased homes in Morocco often have their doors painted with henna to wish for prosperity and chase away evil. Henna is used as a protection against the “evil eye”. The foreheads of bulls, milk cows, and horses are sometimes decorated with henna for their protection. Tombstones in graveyards are sometimes washed with henna to please the sprits.

Henna is used in celebrations of betrothals, weddings, births, circumcisions, religious holidays (similarly for Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Christians and other religions) and National festivals. 

Henna was incorporated into the customs of Muslims in the 6th century CE. Henna traditions were long established in Arabia, and henna was used by Prophet Mohammed and all of his wives. As Islam expanded quickly into other countries, eastern Mediterranean henna traditions followed.

Henna was grown and used in Spain, by Christians, Jews and Moors from the 9th century AD until 1567 when the Spanish Inquisition outlawed it.

Muslims worldwide continue to celebrate the “Night of the Henna” and regard henna as a beautiful and suitable ornament for women to the present day.

Some of the most complex and elegant hennaes ever created were done between 900 to 1700 CE in the Islamic countries. Many miniature paintings and pottery pieces show elegantly patterned red and black henna during this period. Delicate and expressive henna patterns reached their peak in medieval Persia, incorporating calligraphy, multiple applications and varied colors. Persian henna artists achieved blacks, reds, browns, golds, oranges, even blue and green tints with additional herbs, spices and unusual techniques!

The henna paste is carefully applied and must remain undisturbed on the skin for several hours to create a strong dark stain. Most recipes contain some combination of sifted ground henna leaves, strong black tea, lemon juice and a few drops of eucalyptus oil. The thickness of the paste determines the ease of application. Factors which influence the intensity of the final design include heat, warmth which darkens the stain, and length of time the henna paste is left on the skin. Once the paste is applied it will dry and eventually crack. Today some artists still use sticks or toothpicks to apply it, though many prefer homemade plastic cones or large syringes. 

The leaves, flowers, and twigs are ground into a fine powder, and then mixed with hot water. Various shades are obtainable by mixing with the leaves of other plants, such as indigo, tea, coffee, cloves, tamarind, lemon, sugar, and various oils are also used to enhance the colour and longevity of design.

Generally, Arabic (Middle-eastern) mehndi features large, floral patterns on hands and feet, while Indian (Asian) mehndi uses fine line, lacy, floral and paisley patterns covering entire hands, forearms, feet and shins; and African mehndi art is large, and bold with geometrically patterned angles. African mehndi patterns usually use black henna while Asian and Middle Eastern mehndi is often reddish brown.

It is also a common custom in many countries to step into the mehndi, or simply apply the paste without creating a pattern in order to cool, protect or treat the skin (sometimes referred to as a “henna-shoe").

Henna is still in use in all the Middle Eastern and North African countries, though in some areas henna fell out of favor in the 20th century as women sought to emulate European and American fashions.

In the early Mughal courts of India, Persian women with elaborate black henna patterns are depicted alongside Indian women with red-tinted, although unpatterned hands. By 1700, the bridal celebration of the “Night of the Henna” was a well-established part of Muslim India’s traditions, and married Muslim women in India frequently used henna for adornment, for luck, and to enhance sensuality. A portrait of Mumtaz Mahal has one of the earliest Indian patterned hennaes.

1 comment:

Muslim said...

This is indeed a wonderful news for Muslim woman. This somehow gave them an equal status quo as to that of the men.