Henna are tiny trees found in nature, but these herbs are better known to the world for the art that their pigment allows us to create. It has been suggested that the art of henna has been around for over 9000 years, and henna has been practiced in Pakistan, India, the Middle East and Africa for over 5000 years. The tradition has also carried over into parts of Southeast Asia, which is where I first encountered it’s kiss.
I was walking around the Central Market in Kuala Lumpur, and very unsure of what I was looking for. The aura of the market is one that leaves you hopelessly curious and enraptured by the scents of incense, the colours of pashmina, and the vibrancy of languages. You cannot help but feel energised by the unfamiliar atmosphere and the assortment of unique curios. I wanted to take home something to remember that day and more importantly my experience. Tucked away in the corner of Little India, I found a henna artist. He sold everything from keychains to scarves, but it was an old plastic photo album in the corner of his stall that caught my eye. It was a book of his past henna creations. He was more than excited and willing when I asked him if he could design a pattern for my right hand.
The whole design took about 15 minutes for him to dye into my skin, and I waited about 30 minutes for it to dry. Once the henna dye dries, it rises, and you pick it (carefully) off of your skin. What remains is the design (temporally) tattooed into your skin. I couldn’t stop looking at it and tracing the design with my fingers. Every time I looked at it on the flight home I thought about how much I valued the experience of discovering a new city and stumbling upon memorable experiences as a solo traveller in Malaysia.
The cost of alcohol in Australia is absurd, so it is pretty much an unwritten tradition of the locals to make sure that we stop in the duty-free for the discounted booze before we re-enter the land of OZ. Half-asleep and ready to get into bed, I was abruptly brought back to earth when the woman behind the check-out counter asked me about why I had henna done. I told her about my time in Malaysia and she told me that my design was beautiful and that the henna would bring me inner-peace and comfort. Very confused by the significance of the art on my hand, I decided that it was worth researching.
I took a few photos to show my friends and the responses that I received were hilarious. My Dad’s reaction was, “Please tell me you haven’t lost your mind and that isn’t permanent” (very typical). My friend Liz wanted to know where I bought that cool pack of flash tats! I thought a lot of people knew what henna was, but then I realised I didn’t really even know the meaning of henna myself. Sure, I knew what henna was physically, but what did it represent and why has it been practiced by so many and for so long?
Henna can be used for self-expression and is often used in many religions to symbolise a celebration of marriage or a birthday. Henna is meant to have “Barakah” which in arabic means the continuity of a spiritual presence, similar to a blessing. The spiritual blessing that henna embodies is meant to give the bride or individual that is being celebrated good luck and best wishes for the future. Bear in mind, different faiths and different celebrations have an assortment of distinct methods for applying and designing henna art.* Fun fat: As an herb, henna was used by ancient doctors to heal ailments from headaches to sunburn (unfortunately, it did not serve as an treatment for my jetlag).*
As you all have already most likely gathered my henna was not before my big wedding ceremony and it was not administered to me by a doctor, so what did henna mean for me? The uniqueness of my design was the answer that I had been looking for. The man in the market stall did not just create any design; every detail he meticulously etched was meant to evoke a significant and particular “barakah” for me.
The flower in the center of my hand, the biggest and most focal aspect of my design symbolised joy and happiness. The lotus blossom, meandering up my wrist, represented creativity and the awakening of the human soul. The vine and the leaves represented perseverance and devotion. While my henna design was evanescent, it left a lasting impression on my curiosity about cultural traditions dissimilar to my own. It serves as a reminder than details can mean so much, and without experiencing another part of the world I probably would have never known what henna art can really represent. Travel and experience as much as you can; the world and its many cultures are begging to be explored.
This is my first #kissfromtheworld ! Cheers! x