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Mehndi: History, Patterns, Meanings


Decorating skin with natural dyes emerged as a trend in the world of body art in 2015: ladies everywhere started decorating their skin with intricate patterns, and beauty salons added temporary henna tattoos to their services. The mehndi art is over 5,000 years old. In this article, we will look at the significance of this ancient art, ways of henna application, and meanings of common patterns.

History of Mehndi

The first mentions of using henna on the body in the East date back to more than 5,000 years ago. Natural pigments were used as antibacterial products: they protected the skin on hands and feet from heat, cracks, and infection.

The tradition to draw ornamental patterns on the body — mehndi — emerged later. It became popular among women and men of Assyria. Ancient Greece, Babylon, Mesopotamia, and the Roman Empire. The fashion for body art in the mehndi technique spread across Islamic countries, where religion forbids any body modifications, including permanent tattoos.

Mehndi patterns in Arab countries, India, North Africa, Malaysia, and Indonesia carried different meanings. The choice of patterns was wide, and their meanings versatile. They were used as wedding and religious symbols, to attract luck, ward off evil spirits, ask higher forces to give a family a child or to grant another wish, etc. Every mehndi pattern bears a sacred meaning, a message to the Universe.

Interesting fact: In Eastern counties, a new wife is exempt from domestic chores until her bridal mehndi patterns fade away.

мехенди, тату хной

Pros of Mehndi Tattoos

Let’s look at the pros of temporary henna tattoos:

  • natural henna is hypoallergenic;
  • henna has antibacterial properties;
  • it’s safe for skin;
  • the application procedure is painless;
  • a tattoo can be easily amended if a pattern gets smudged;
  • it’s safe for children.

Mehndi Styles

Styles of mehndi designs differ from region to region.


This style is all about bold lines, clear geometric patterns, and floral motifs mostly on the hands. Its distinctive feature is full coverage of soles and palms.


This style features chaotically arranged small flowers that comprise an entire scene as well as fruit motifs and imitations of rings on fingers.


Indian mehndi designs offer a wide choice of motifs: symbolic depictions of animals, geometric patterns, floral designs, paisley, religious motifs, lace, and dots on fingers. Hands and feet are covered in patterns resembling gloves and socks. The center of the hand is decorated with symmetrical circular patterns — mandalas.


This style of mehndi offers similar variations of body designs as in the Indian one with prominent floral motifs. The difference lies in full coverage of the sides of feet, palms, and fingertips.

European (Western)

European artists adopted various features of the abovementioned styles and motifs, combining them and attaching new meanings to them.

Mehndi Patterns and Their Meanings

Hands — fingers, wrists, palms — are a traditional placement for mehndi tattoos. These patterns are also often done on feet, from ankles to toes. Henna tattoos on shoulders, neck, back, and thighs are a recent trend.

Let’s look at some common patterns:

  • Paisley, a drop-like design, signifies a high status and attracts wealth.
  • Lotus is a wedding symbol that speaks of harmony with yourself and nature, purity and innocence.
  • The Om symbol means a person’s connection with the Universe and eternity, understanding of themselves.
  • Fish is a symbol of wealth and fertility.
  • A triangle acts as an amulet against illness and hardships and is also a symbol of femininity.
  • The sun represents wisdom and eternity.
  • Grapevines stand for loyalty and affection.
  • A mandala is a perfect talisman and a symbol of harmony and prosperity.
  • Peacocks represent natural beauty.
  • The elephant is associated with strength, wisdom, and a distinct way of thinking.
  • Grains stand for abundance and wealth.
  • Birds mean a dream, freedom, and a desire to achieve new heights.
  • Flower buds and vines are symbolic of love.

мехенди, тату хной

Choosing Henna for Mehndi

Henna is green powder smelling of hay that is made from leaves of Lawsonia inermis.

Henna comes in the following colors:

  • brown;
  • white;
  • black.

Natural henna turns into brown paste when mixed with water. This is a safe dye.

There are no such things as white and black henna in nature.

‘White henna’ is a mixture of hypoallergenic acrylic dye with an adhesive agent that enables the dye to be applied to skin. It is also safe.

As for ‘black henna’, it can be either a mixture of henna and basma made from leaves of Indigofera tinctoria or a dangerous dye with PPD (paraphenylenediamine) that is used in hair dyes. Dyes with PPD can cause blisters and sores on the skin. Let’s learn how to recognize this dangerous dye.

  • It’s not produced in India, but in another country, often the USA.
  • The powder is dark brown or black and resembles ground coffee.

Henna comes in two forms:

  • ready-made paste in a cone;
  • powder for making paste at home.

The shelf life of henna dye is 12 months. Homemade paste can be stored for 2-20 days. The advantage of a DIY paste is that you can regulate the shade with the help of strong tea, coffee, essential oils, or lemon juice.

Important! No matter what henna you choose, do an allergy test before starting to apply the pattern. Make a line of henna on your skin and wait for 20 minutes. If there’s no reaction — go for it.

мехенди, тату хной

Doing a Henna Tattoo: Key Points

  • Here are the main things you should take into account before you get a temporary henna tattoo.
  • Choose natural and high-quality henna to reduce the risk of an allergic reaction to a minimum.
  • Get a brush and stick for application of the pattern. Or get a tube of paste.
  • Prepare the area for your henna tattoo: remove hairs, clean the skin with scrub and degreasing lotion. Mehndi tattoos look better and last longer on smooth skin.
  • Choose a pattern taking into account its meaning.
  • Stencils are a go-to option for beginners: they help to make lines straight and crisp.
  • Don’t let the finished pattern get wet, give it 6-8 hours to dry.
  • You can treat the dried tattoo with lemon juice or olive oil to make it last longer. A well-done mehndi tattoo lasts for about 15-25 days.
  • A tattoo might look pale right after application. This is fine: it settles into its final color in the course of 40 hours.

If you want to do a henna tattoo at home, check out our step-by-step guide.

What is mehndi: a trendy form of body art or an unusual good luck charm? Interpretations differ from person to person. Nowadays, henna tattoos are an original and safe alternative to permanent tattoos and a perfect option for those who love variety and value freedom of expression.

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