Henna - spiritual

Henna is not a sacred plant in South Asia, but it does symbolise prosperity, fertility and happiness. It plays an essential role in the rites of womanhood and represents fortune, seduction and beauty. It is widely used in a variety of religious and ritualistic ceremonies in South Asia, particularly by Muslims.

Mythology

There are many myths surrounding the art of mehndi in Pakistan and India. Legend states that the goddess Parvati, wife of the great god Shiva, used it as a decoration in order to charm her husband away from his usual stance of brooding meditation.

Celebrations and symbolism

A photograph of a woman's hands covered with intricate rusty brown henna patterns.
Hands are covered with lacy, intricate henna patterns as part of the wedding ceremony.

At weddings a bride's hands are decorated with henna. The bridegroom's name is frequently hidden in the lacy patterns. If he discovers his initials on the wedding night it will bring him luck, but if he does not, it signifies that the bride will dominate their relationship. It was also believed that the bride's mother-in-law would love her more the darker the dye was.

In Muslim religion, there are a number of hadiths, or actions or stories of the Prophet Muhammed, that mention henna. The plant plays a key role in the Id al-Fitr or 'little feast' at the end of Ramadan. Celebrations take place over 7 days as people return to food, drink and social pleasures after depriving themselves for 4 weeks. Gifts are exchanged, parties are held, and weddings often take place. During Id, women make an effort to look their best by wearing new clothes and applying henna to their hair, hands and feet. A perfume derived from henna flowers is also used at congregational prayers.