The tradition of the Night of the Henna has been practiced for at least 1000 years BCE. During this ceremony, a girl is purified, adorned with jewelry and fine clothing, and marked with henna in preparation for her wedding. The markings are typically done at a celebration hosted by the bride and groom’s families, and guests may also be marked with henna.
Henna at Wedding
Traditionally, the bride’s mother or the groom’s mother performs the henna markings, although in some cases a professional henna artist may be hired. The festivities include music, dancing, and a feast.
The bride is often placed on a raised platform, where she is displayed in her finest attire, veiled except for her hennaed hands and feet. Friends and family members offer gifts and money, often with a bit of henna added to ward off the “Evil Eye.” Henna is believed to bring good luck and protect against bad luck.
Mehndi ki Raat
The Night of the Henna celebration can last for many hours or even all night, and it is a cherished and widespread tradition around the world. Henna has historically been associated more with women of reproductive age than with children or elderly individuals.
Throughout history, henna has been primarily associated with women, particularly those in their reproductive years, as opposed to children or elders.
Heena more inclined towards Women
Henna has been associated more with women than men, in part due to its potential harm to infants and children with homozygous G6PD deficiency. This genetic blood enzyme disorder is commonly found in regions where malaria is prevalent, and affects males more than females as it is transmitted through their single X chromosome.
The observation that henna never seemed to harm post-pubescent females, but occasionally harmed young males, led to the belief that henna was suitable for women but not men. However, men have also used henna in certain situations, such as before marriage or for luck before battles, though with simpler patterns and less frequently than women. Men also use henna to celebrate Eid, which is a festival day in Islamic cultures.
Men did use henna, but not as much as women. They would have a “Night of the Henna” before their marriage, but with simpler and fewer patterns. Additionally, in many cultures, men would use a little henna for luck before going into battle or to celebrate Eid, festival days in Islamic cultures.
History of Henna
The use of henna dates back to ancient times and was indigenous to Israel when Christianity was forming. Early Christians continued to use henna for fertility and celebration, although not as extensively as their Jewish or earlier religious neighbors. As Jewish populations spread beyond Israel after the first century CE, henna use did not extend beyond the plant’s natural growing zone, except for Jews from Sephardic and Mizrahi backgrounds.
Night Of Heena
The Night of the Henna is a tradition that has been observed since at least 1000 BCE, where a girl is purified, dressed, and adorned with jewelry for her wedding and marked with henna. This ceremony is usually held by the bride and groom’s families, and guests are often marked with henna as well. The bride is typically marked with henna by her mother or the groom’s mother, but a local professional henna artist may also be hired for the occasion. The Night of the Henna includes traditional songs, dancing, feasting, and can last for many hours or all night long.
Henna has always been more commonly associated with women, especially those in their reproductive years, due to its potential harm to infants and children with homozygous G6PD deficiency, a genetic blood enzyme disorder mainly found in areas where malaria is endemic. This genetic deficiency affects males more than females because it is transmitted on their single X chromosome. As a result, men generally used henna less often than women, but there were some instances where they used it. Men sometimes had a “Night of the Henna” before marriage, with simpler patterns and fewer of them. In some cultures, men also used henna for luck before battles and to celebrate Eid festival days in Islamic cultures.
Origin of Heena
Henna was originally indigenous to Israel when Christianity was forming, and early Christians continued to use henna for fertility and celebration, although to a lesser extent than their Jewish neighbors or those who followed earlier religions. As Jewish populations migrated beyond Israel after the first century CE, Night of the Henna traditions persisted in Arab or African communities that continued to use henna for special occasions like Purim or Passover. When Christian beliefs spread outward through the Roman Empire and beyond, henna use did not extend beyond the plant’s natural growing zone. However, Egyptian Coptic and Armenian Christians maintained Night of the Henna traditions well into the twentieth century.
Henna and religion
During the time when Islam was forming, henna was already part of wellness and social celebrations in Arabia, and it was eventually adopted into Muslim cultural practices, especially among women. In the Islamic tradition, it is necessary for every person to wash before prayer, and women must have a purifying wash to remove reproductive blood and fluids before prayer, such as those caused by menstruation, birth, and sexual activity. This practice of bathing and cleanliness spread as Muslim culture expanded, and benefactors constructed public baths for the community’s health and well-being.
The use of henna in women’s baths was an important part of the bathing process for beautification and wellness in Arabian culture, particularly during the formation of Islam. As the practice of ritual ablution and purification before prayer became more widespread in Muslim culture, the use of henna also became more popular. Women would use henna to dye their hair, fingertips, and soles, and would learn from each other how to use it if they were unfamiliar. This cultural use of henna spread from Arabia to other regions as Islam spread, including Spain, the Atlantic shore of Africa, the Ottoman and Persian empires, western China and Russia, as well as through India and Malaysia.
During medieval times, when Muslim influence was present in Sicily, women would use henna on their fingertips during Christmas. Evidence suggests that henna was used by Muslims, Christians, and Jews alike for hair, soles, fingernails, fingertips, and body art during celebrations in medieval Spain. However, in the sixteenth century, the Catholic Church banned the use of henna in Spain and imposed the death penalty on those who used it, as part of the expulsion of Muslims, Jews, and their culture. Despite this, Armenian Christian women continued to use henna on their hands for weddings until recent times.
Jewish Kurdish women had their own unique henna traditions, which included using henna for Purim, betrothal, and weddings. Similarly, in Yemen and North Africa, Jewish women had comparable henna traditions and even had intricate bridal henna designs, which were similar to those of their Muslim counterparts.
From the 10th to the 17th century, affluent Persian women adorned themselves with some of the most elaborate henna designs in history. They displayed these complex and beautiful patterns on their hands and feet during the Persian New Year celebration, Nowruz, weddings, Eid, and other social events. They also decorated their bodies with henna patterns of flowers and birds, which were used to enhance their beauty for their husbands.
Women in the Ottoman Empire also incorporated henna into their regular beauty and celebration rituals. As Persian and Arabic influences spread to western India through trade and conquest, their religious and henna traditions also spread. This includes the Night of the Henna, which has been practiced in India since 500 BCE. While people in India had marked their hands and feet with red dyes and pigments, it was not necessarily with henna, and not in the same way as henna.
Red body markings in India were not always made with henna. Instead, some were made with vivid red alkalized turmeric, while others were done with lac, a scarlet dye made from Laccifer laca, an insect indigenous to southeast India. Unlike henna, both alkalized turmeric and lac produce true red colors, not the orange or brown color of henna. Furthermore, both lac and turmeric can be removed from the skin surface, while henna stains the skin through its layers.
Although men rarely used henna in southeast Asia, both men and women used lac to tint their palms and soles. This can be seen in many paintings of the Buddha, where both men and women painted a neat red line around the soles of their feet, and sometimes painted small patterns on their skin. The skin painting was part of daily grooming and not reserved for celebrations, though people often painted more elaborate designs on their skin for festivals. Lac production is indigenous to the tropical rainy areas of Southeast Asia, while henna is indigenous to the tropical semi-arid areas.
Much of the traditional body art in Hindu India, done with turmeric, alkalized turmeric, and blue and white pigments, was applied for devotional, ritual, and religious purposes. While men rarely used henna, women used it for various occasions. For example, A Lady Playing the Tanpura portrays an entertainer adorned in courtly costume and jewels with henna-dyed fingertips. In India, henna was used for occasions such as the Night of the Henna, weddings, and other social celebrations.
Muslim culture in India adopted many cultural traditions from Arabic and Persian cultures, including the Night of the Henna for weddings, betrothals, henna for victory and sacrifice, but henna body marking was always secular and associated with luck and celebration. In Hindu India, traditional body art was done with turmeric, alkalized turmeric, and blue and white pigments for devotional, ritual, and religious purposes. The practice of the Night of the Henna did not become popular in Hindu Indian culture until relatively recently, crossing over from Muslim culture to be part of Hindu bridal parties and social celebrations. Henna application was usually done by friends, family, or a local artist with a steady hand.