Nupur Saraswat | March 18, 2016
Henna comes from the Arabic word “Hinna”. It is a temporary tattoo that is used in South Asia, the Middle East and parts of Africa. The leaves of the Henna plant are ground to create a paste that gives the applied area a dark red/ orange colour. In recent times, henna tattoos have gained increasing popularity especially after being seen on a number of celebrities.
Technically, henna can be printed on the skin in any shape or form, making symbols, words or creative designs. In the Hindu community where henna designs printing is largely popular, there are some repeated designs that show up on hands and feet while applying the henna through cones full of the paste.
Typically, palms are decorated with symbols that would suggest a beginning or an offering to a God. The back of a hand is adorned with symbols of protection and shield. Feet are mostly decorated with the symbol related with piousness. There are so many different versions of the henna tattoo. Their variety is limited by only the imagination and the skill of the henna tattoo artist. We take a look at the most common henna designs and the meaning behind each of them.
Flower designs are common as they are easy to create. They are definitely pretty to look at. They are thought to represent happiness and a sort of offering to a God that the person believes in. The wish is for a happy married life and joy in all endeavours. Flower buds also represent new beginnings. As such, these designs are very popular with brides.
Leaves and vines represent longevity and tenacity of a marriage. Leaves and vines are commonly drawn on fingers, giving an elegant and slim look to them. Their representational value is also high. They portray strength and longevity in hard times; as one would imagine due to the image they create. The wish is for a long and cherished marriage between couples.
Paisley designs are said to look like little droplets of luck. They are used to represent luck and fertility. Paisley is basically a slightly impregnated droplet that can be drawn in any imaginable way. It’s a common design which features in almost all prints, majorly because it gives a good base to build up all the other symbols and designs on.
Grace, purity and sensibility are some of the many virtues represented by the lotus flower in the world of henna printing. It is seen adorned on both the bride and grooms hands, as if to pray for these virtues in their union.
The peacock henna tattoo is a special design because the print on the hand can be done in a fairly easy strokes or the same peacock can fill up an entire palm with intricate – thick and thin- curves of the henna cone. It represents the epitome of beauty and love.
Other than the peacock, henna designs featuring other birds are popular as well. These birds are known as the messengers of wishes to the heavens.
The Sahasrara is a mystical symbol. The word is Sanskrit for a thousand petals. The design does look like a multitude of petals originating from a single spot. It represents unity and divinity.
These are just a few examples from a fascinating myriad of henna design symbols that have evolved over years of application. It has stopped being associated to one religion and has started representing the whole of the Indian community as one. It can be seen at all Indian weddings – Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Jain and even traditional Christian weddings. The magic of this temporary tattoo is that you can let your imagination run wild and bring to life a whole story on your palms.
Today, henna’s use is not limited to palms and feet – you can get experimental with it and decorate different body parts with this fragrant dark paste. Yet, in its core, it upholds the same values – beauty, prosperity and requited love of all those that you hold dear.
Cover picture courtesy of Rohan Mishra Photography.
We are thankful to the talented Rohan Mishra for all the images within this article. Do visit his facebook page for more his stunning captures of majestic Indian weddings.
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