In my preparations for India, one of the things I barely thought about was the practice of henna. However, once we arrived, it was hard to ignore its presence. From what I have heard in passing as well as what my Indian-born friend Amrita told me, it is at its most intricate for weddings and there are a multitude of designs that can be achieved. Dr. Anupama also informed us how it is traditionally done on the palm of the hand rather than just the top of the hand, and the longer it stayed on meant the better the wife would be as her skin indicated she was a hard worker. I thought this was interesting as it did not seem as though the pigmentation of the skin had anything to do with the henna staying, rather the hardness or softness. Another observation I made was how women typically have henna on the skin, but there were quite a few men spotted with henna in their hair, turning it a brilliant red or burgundy.

I had henna done two different times in India: first when we went into the Chowki Dhani, just on the top of my left hand and the process was extremely fast. The women who were doing it did not seem extremely happy to be doing it, likely as we were not allowed to tip them, but it was amazing to see them think of a design and work so quickly. It was very thick and took quite a while to dry, but I was happy with it nevertheless.

First henna done-sort of in the shape of a peacock!

Other than the men that we spotted who had it in their hair, the second time I witnessed henna being done was on my roommate for the trip, Emma-Rose, when we went to the Dilli Haat Food & Craft Bazaar on our second to last day. They charged 200, 300 or 500 rupees depending on how far up the arm the individual wanted, and she chose the 200. This time the henna was done much more intricately and the process took a bit longer, therefore yielding phenomenal results. Emma was thrilled and I was a little envious that I had just spent the last of my cash and could not get it done as well.

Emma’s henna that was done at the Food & Craft Bazaar

However, on the next day (our last day!), henna was offered to all of us at Mr. Sushil’s house. I did not catch the man’s name that worked his magic, but his work on us was absolutely amazing. He did not repeat one design even though almost all our group got it done, which was very impressive. This time around I did the tops of both hands, and while they are similar still they do not mirror each other exactly, making it that much more interesting to look at.

The henna drying: just showing how different all of ours ended up being.

Overall, the art of henna is something that will forever blow me away. I cannot even fathom the amount of artistic effort put behind it, and it always seems to flow so naturally from the person doing it. The design possibilities seem endless, and I am so happy I could take proof of India away with me. Although it will eventually fade, I will never forget the craft that henna is and may even try my hand at it if the opportunity presents itself.


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