Residents who attended the Plympton Library Saturday, at 2 p.m., learned a lot about the ancient art of Mehindi, or artwork painted on the bodies of women and girls with stains made from ground up leaves of the henna shrub that grows abundantly in India, Pakistan, Africa, and the Mid-East. Henna art can be traced back more than 5,000 years. Some say it can be dated to more than 9,000 years ago.
Shruthi Reddy, of Iska Designs, brought the art to life with her demonstration at the Plympton Public Library last weekend, showing how the henna leaves are harvested from the henna shrub, dried, and crushed with a mortar and pestle, to the very finest consistency. Then you add essential oils, water, lemon juice, and a bit of sugar to help bind the henna stain to the skin and give it some elasticity.
Shruthi learned her art watching and helping a henna artist in her town during school vacations. She helped mix the paste and make the cones to apply the paste in the very tiniest fine lines. After years of “apprenticeship”, she was confident to apply the art herself.
Each attendee at the demonstration was given a bag with all they would need to make their own henna stain: crushed henna leaves, a vial of lemon juice, a packet of fine sugar, and plastic material to roll the cone shapes that hold the henna stain.
Henna art, Shruthi told the group, although an ancient form with many cultural aspects, is trending now as a new expression of body art that is beautiful and inexpensive. Henna parties are now often held during wedding showers or other happy times. Just for fun.
Henna designs can be as simple or as ornate as you like – but, we were told, all designs have their origin in a few simple lines and shapes: straight lines, dots, spirals, humps, and esses. By breaking down each design into the five shapes listed, it is easier to recreate even the most complex of designs.
Henna, Shruthi explained, is completely organic. Applied properly it will dry on the skin and transfer its color over a period of an hour or so while it dries. Once the pigment flakes off, the color stain is left behind to develop on the skin over the next 24 hours or so. Even with repeated hand washing, the stain will remain for several days and even perhaps a week. What a good idea for a less than permanent tattoo!
Some commercial stains claim their color is instant, but beware, Shruthi advises, that probably means that they have added artificial dye to their pigments. She wouldn’t call them safe to use.
Mehindi henna art is inexpensive, and it also has a cooling effect. In India, where daytime temperatures can get well over 100, henna is still used on hands and feet to draw heat from the body. Men and women paint henna pigment on their palms and the soles of their feet to help cool off.
The next time Shruthi will bring her henna cones and pigment to Plympton will be August 12 at Plympton’s National Night Out, at the Holt Field behind the Town House, from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m.