Mehndi is a traditional art practiced on the Indian sub-continent and across the Middle-east. Sometimes the hands and feet of a person are decorated on festive occasions such as the Muslim celebration of 'Eid' and the Hindu 'Diwali' festival. Often the hands and feet of a bride are intricately decorated on the day before a wedding.
Arabic mehndi tends to be bold and floral in design, wheras 'Indian' mehndi tends to be more geometric with long thin lacy lines.
Henna (from the Arabic word 'hina') is made from the henna plant (Lawsonia inermis).
Its leaves are dried and crushed and filtered to make a powder (see left). The powder can be prepared into a paste by mixing with an oil and water (or tea). Lemon juice and sugar are also added (or applied later) to increase the adhesive properties.
As well as its use as a cosmetic, henna is known to have medicinal properties such as a cure for sunburn.
The paste is 'painted' onto the skin or nails with a brush, stick or pad (or squeezed from a tube - see right). The paste is left on the skin for over an hour and when removed leaves a dark orange or brown stain - the longer the paste is left on the darker the stain.
An example of some designs from a recent European Year of languages cultural day which took place in Portsmouth.