In East Indian culture, the henna tattoo has been used for body painting in social and holiday celebrations since early civilization. Young women would adorn their bodies in preparation for marriage ceremonies in what has become known as bridal art.
“Wall paintings excavated at Akrotiri (dating prior to the eruption of Thera in 1680 BCE) show women with markings consistent with henna on their nails, palms and soles, in a tableau consistent with the henna bridal description from Ugarit¹. Many statuettes of young women dating between 1500 and 500 BCE along the Mediterranean coastline have raised hands with markings consistent with henna. This early connection between young, fertile women and henna seems to be the origin of the Night of the Henna, which is now celebrated worldwide.
The Night of the Henna was celebrated by most groups in the areas where henna grew naturally: Jews, ² Muslims, Hindus, Christians and Zoroastrians, among others, all celebrated marriages by adorning the bride, and often the groom, with henna.
Henna was regarded as having ‘Barakah,’ blessings, and was applied for luck as well as joy and beauty.4 Brides typically had the most henna, and the most complex patterns, to support their greatest joy, and wishes for luck. Some bridal traditions were very complex, such as those in Yemen, where the Jewish bridal henna process took four or five days to complete, with multiple applications and resist work.”*
Henna Tattoo in Other Celebrations
However, the henna tattoo was also used as body painting and art to celebrate war victories. Animals such as horses, donkeys and salukis had the henna tattoo applied to their hooves, paws and tails. Eventually, across the regions that traditionally grew henna, the henna tattoo and body painting was used to celebrate births, circumcision, birthdays and whenever there was a joyous occasion –if henna was available for body art ³.
Today, body art quality henna is proven to be excellent for permanent stain. For body painting on hands and feet (body art), reddish brown color will be produced. For bellies, arms and legs, expect light to medium reddish brown color from the body painting.
Due to the extremely high sifting and higher dye content needed for finer body art and bridal art application– body art quality henna is sold for this purpose -in countries outside the United States. Please note that the FDA has not approved henna for direct application to the skin. It is unconditionally approved as a hair dye, and can only be imported for that purpose.
Saba Botanical of USA sells pure, body art quality henna (Lawsonia Inermis) for use as a natural hair dye. Sold in 100 gm. packages.
*see Wikipedia. Tradition of Henna as Body Art.
¹ D̲oumas, Christos (1992). The wall-paintings of Thera. Athens: Thera Foundation.
² Brauer, Erich; Raphael Patai (1993). The Jews of Kurdistan. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.
³ Westermarck, Edward (1972) . Marriage ceremonies in Morocco. London: Curzon Press.
4 Westermarck, E. (1926). Ritual and Belief in Morocco Vols 1 & 2. London, UK: Macmillan and Company, Limited.
Author: L.J. O'Neal, writer and researcher. (L.J. is also a Lustrous Henna® user.)
©2012. L.J. O’Neal. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
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