The art of Mehndi (or Mehandi) has been along-standing tradition stemming from many ancient cultures dating back as far as about 5000 years, but is most known today for it's history in India used in religious & ritualistic ceremonies.
Mehndi Tradition in India
During the reign of Augustus, Emperor of Rome (27 B.C.-A.D. 14), Egypt became an important trade centre for commerce between Rome and India. There are ancient murals in the Ajanta- Ellora caves near Mumabi (old Bombay) dated before A.D. 350 that, remarkably, show a princess of Patliputra reclining under a tree, half asleep, having her hands and feet painted with flowery henna designs. Historians mention that henna may have been brought to India along with Persian horses around A.D 712. What is known is that henna has been cultivated in Rajasthan since around 1476.
The use of mehandi or henna became a significant part of Indian folk art soon after the advent of the Muslims. The orange-red mehandi color was often painted on new brides. The women were painted with intricate designs on order to distinguish them from unmarried young virgins, who were in danger of being kidnapped by the Muslims. From that time onward, it is said that mehandi flourished as decorative art in India.
Hindus consider mehandi as very dear to Lakshmi, goddess of wealthand fortune. If ever there was a plant associated with luck and prosperity, it is henna bush.
In the beginning Mehndi was only used by the rich and ruling families. Soon also the simple folk found pleasure in it. As more people were using Mehndi, the recepies and patterns became more refined.
Indian women utilize it to beautify themselves before big occasions such as wedding and holidays. The traditional patterns mimic a lacy look, like gloves on the hands and arms, and very intricate and ravishing.
In 17th century India, the barber's wife was usually employed for applying henna on women. Most women from that time in India are depicted with their hands and feet hennaed, regardless of social class or marital status. The beautiful patterning prevalent in India today has emerged only in the 20th century.