Eid celebration is incomplete without henna (patterns made with henna paste on hands and legs), especially for Muslim women and children. The tradition has been in prevalence for about centuries which has many cultural and religious associations with it. In Qatar, the business of applying mehndi or henna paste during Eid festival has been growing over the past few years. Huge crowd of women at beauty salons are a common sight during this time. Some of the beauty salons located at malls arrange separate henna service for their customers. Here, you can see a line of lady henna artists designing fascinating and intricate patterns on the palm and feet of women and children. Many beauty parlours also offer exciting offers on such occasions.
“Normally there is a huge rush during Eid at our beauty parlour. Therefore every year we hire local henna artists for three days during Eid and provide the service at the mall’s customer service outlets. Artists are mainly from Pakistan and are paid on a percentage basis depending on the sale. For this Eid, we specially designed 2,000 henna corns each displaying the name of the ingredients. We prepare the mix and fill the cones one week ahead of Eid festival. Price for hand designs range from QR20-100 depending on the patterns and the area each customer wants to cover with designs. Bridal designs normally come around QR500,” said Sheela Philip, director and beauty therapist at Doha Beauty Centre, who has more than two decades of experience in the field. She is a post-graduate in Beauty Therapy and has done a beauty course from Shehnaz Hussain’s Women’s World International Beauty School.
Henna, with the botanical name lawsonia inermis, is a tall shrub native to the tropical and sub-tropical regions of Africa and cultivated in Indian subcontinent, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Egypt. The red-orange pigment named lawsone contained in henna works as a colouring agent. Historically, it had been used to dye cloth and leather as well as hair; to colour the manes of horses and fur of animals.
It is mentioned as a valuable medicine in Egyptian hieroglyphs. The plant’s bark, leaves and seeds are used for medicinal purposes. In Egypt, use of henna to prevent skin diseases has been traced to as far back as the Bronze Ages.
In most of the hot countries, it had been used by people as a cooling agent to relieve from the scorching heat. It is also known to calm the nerves and bring health and beauty. It’s usage as a cosmetic hair dye dates back to thousands of years in ancient Egypt, India, the Middle East and Africa.
Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Christians and Zoroastrians among others had been celebrating marriages by adorning the bride with henna. In some parts of the world, pregnant women are adorned with henna which is also believed to ward off evil, protect from the evil eye and impart good luck.
Commercially available henna powder is made by drying the leaves and grinding them to a powder, which is then sifted. The technological innovations in grinding, sifting, packaging and temperature control have improved the dye content.
A smooth henna paste is made by adding water, hot black tea and mustard or Mahalabia oil. This mixture is mostly used in body art and can be applied with many traditional and innovative tools among which cones are most popular.
“We use natural henna imported from Rajasthan. The colour of the design depends on the quality of henna powder used. We may not get quality powder from local markets. Earlier, mixing and filling was done manually but technological advancements have made it easier now-a-days. We have all machinery at one of our branches,” said Sheela.
“Natural henna is a good hair conditioner, has cooling effect and also combats premature greying. The treatment is very effective if we start using it from the beginning stage, thus you can prevent greying for a long time. After you get grey hair, you may have to go for colour treatments that usually depend upon chemical dyes which are not very good for health. Some people prefer black henna to get a dark black tint to the designs which is harmful to health. Black henna does not contain natural henna; it is a chemical hair dye. Therefore, it should not be used on hands and we are against such practice,” added Sheela.
Henna designs vary from culture to culture which range from traditional floral patterns to geometrical shapes and abstract designs. Hand designs include flower arches, henna web, flower net, flowery trails, lucky lotus and chains etc. Some of the popular designs for feet include flowers, leafy tendrils, and abstract shapes.
Generally, Indian and Pakistani designs consist of intricate floral patterns, teardrops and lines. The Middle Eastern style focuses more on large floral motifs while African designs usually have bold geometric shapes. Women across Asia and particularly in India are adopting more of Arabic designs as they last long and do not cover the entire hand leaving a lot of gaps in between.
“More people prefer Arabic henna patterns which last long compared to Indian designs. The Khaleeji design is most popular among customers in Qatar. During Eid time we put henna for more than 15 people daily,” said one of the henna artists seen at one of the malls. There were also some college students from Pakistan who were into designing as a part-time job or hobby. Most of them are not trained artists but are experienced enough to make designs within minutes.
Bridal henna designs usually have complex patterns and often cover palms, hands and even extend up to the shoulders. The soles, tops of the feet and even legs are decorated. Bridal Mehndi is growing with new innovations such as glitter, gilding and fine-line work.
Henna body art is preferred by modern women as a temporary fashion accessory as it comes with much easier and painless methods compared to permanent body tattoos. Various shades of full body motif and tattoos are also procured by mixing henna paste with the leaves and fruits of other plants, such as indigo, tea, coffee, cloves and lemon. The art has survived for centuries for many reasons and will hopefully survive for centuries to come.