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Henna: An Old Tradition

By Beena Inam

Nadia Nazir, 28, of Ann Arbor still remembers the day of her wedding. She had her hands and feet painted with Henna. “I was very happy, and what would be a better way then to express my happiness through a beautiful design of henna,” she said.

Nazir is a Medical Technologist at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital. She further said about henna, “It’s very decorative. After the holy month of Ramadan, me and my friends get together and apply it on each other’s hand. It is considered an expression of happiness.”

As a tradition, in some countries, henna is applied to the hands and feet of brides to celebrate their wedding day; some apply it also for ‘eid and other religious celebrations, or indeed to celebrate any good occasion.

The dramatic, dark red designs of henna are considered to have originated first from the Middle East and India. The striking and intricate designs of henna are painted on the body with a paste made from the crushed leaves of the henna plant and a mixture of aromatic oils.

Henna gained popularity in the U.S. after the early 1990’s. Many American musicians and Hollywood personalities adopted the pain-free method of applying henna as a form of body decoration in preference to tattoos–the temporary tattoo. As the trend grows in popularity, so does the list of personalities.

There are different rituals everywhere involving henna. Some people believe henna brings everlasting love and makes a successful married life, some do it to chase away evil. But whatever the reason, most people do it for the sake of its enchanting designs.

“Arab, Indian, American and Middle Eastern, all ethnicities–people come to the salon to get their hands painted with henna for different reasons. Some don’t want to be stuck with the same design for years so they prefer temporary henna designs [over tattoos],” said Rani Kapila, 28, an Indian owner of a successful henna-drawing salon that has been in business for about 6 years.

Getting a permanent tattoo is not for everyone, some people want the design but can’t stand the pain involved. Henna is safe and, best of all; it’s temporary, so changing designs is a snap. Designs of henna last from a few days to a few weeks before fading magically from the skin and it costs a lot less than a permanent tattoo.

“I have a permanent tattoo, and I spent so much money on it but now I am bored with it. If I knew about the temporary tattoos before, I wouldn’t have gone for the permanent one,” said Jamie Paravantes, 29, from Canton.

Henna is painless and it does not leave any stain behind. There are some misconceptions about henna. Henna is never black in color. If something stains the skin black, it is not henna. The black dye is probably para-phenylenediamine, also known as PPD, and that can hurt a person who is allergic to it. 

“Allergy to the actual henna is extremely rare,” said Sana Shamsi, 29, a Resident from Detroit Medical College.

In India and Pakistan, the term ‘Mehndi’ is used instead of henna. Henna is thought to possess spiritual properties. Hindus relate prosperity to henna designs, so they celebrate menhdi with patterns, designs and decorations in their religious occasions and ceremonies.

Hanoe Gibbons, 29, relaxing at her home in Canton as her children play around her, says, “Henna has always had a symbolic meaning for me because of my Indian background.”


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