Mehndi and Neeta Sharma

"Henna designing is a form of intricate painting that has been practiced for thousands of years. It is an ancient form of body art which has originated from the Middle East and India."

I know Neeta Sharma, owner of Mehndi Designer and author of the book Sangeet, from Mehreen Hussain and Asif Shah's fabulous wedding. Neeta is a Mehndi Artist--she uses Henna to create intricate designs on the hands and feet of her clients, many of whom are brides of Indian or Middle Eastern descent. Henna is "a dye procured from the tree Lawsonia inermis [which] stains the skin a mahogany color."

I met Neeta on Friday night, at the first of three different parties I was covering for this wedding--she had set up a small area in the corner of the room and was applying mehndi (another term for the decorative application of henna) to anyone who wanted it--of course I took a short break from shooting to get some myself! Looking over her books and photos of past work, I soon saw my opportunity-- I noticed there weren't many good quality photos. I immediately offered to help polish up her portfolio and she said yes!

The first shoot we did together was for another bride (slideshow below). It was incredible watching the whole process take shape--over 2 hours of work went into one bride's hands and feet! Henna is a very interesting substance--it goes on brownish, and you are supposed to let it stay on until the crusty part falls off (occasionally dabbing it with lemon to improve the color). Once this happens, the pattern is left behind on the skin as a light orange color--but what is so interesting is that it actually gets darker for the first few days you have it on.

Facts about Henna:

**"In the Middle East, women use henna to decorate their hands and feet. Men also use it as a dye on their hair and beard. Women apply henna on their hands and feet approximately once every two weeks. It is usually after the night prayer that most women dye their hands and feet.

**The role of henna goes much beyond cosmetic and aesthetic value. Henna has a deeper meaning to the women of India. The night before a wedding is known as the 'Night of Henna (Mehendi) when the bride's hands and feet are decorated in elaborate floral and fertility designs. On the henna night, relatives and friends (married as well as unmarried) of the bride gather at the bride's house. While henna is being applied the bride is enlightened about the mysteries of married life.

**There are many stories about the longevity of henna on the bride's hand. It is said that if the henna lasts longer on the bride's hands it indicates that the bride is treated well at her in-laws' place, sparing her from the household chores, at least on the first few days of her married life. The bride's mother feels a sense of relief when the daughter visits her few days after the wedding and still able to see the henna design on her daughter's palm.

**Henna has medicinal value too. It is considered an anti-irritant, a deodorant and an antiseptic. It is used by Ayurvedic physicians for the treatment of heat rashes and skin allergies and to cool the body against the intense heat of summers. Because of its cooling property henna leaves and flowers are made into lotions and ointments to be used externally for boils, burns and skin inflammations, including sores from leprosy."

Neeta's work goes far beyond bridal decoration--people hire her for many occasions. The second shoot we did together was decorating a 6 months pregnant woman's belly, in preparation for a birth blessing/baby shower she was having that weekend. In addition to the regular henna, Neeta added some glitter and rhinestones to the design. The end result was incredible:

Here you can see the slideshow I made for her, detailing the process of mehendi application. Or see it bigger here.

All quotes in this post are from Neeta's site,

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