As green swirls turn reddish-orange, women across Hyderabad continue to share the love of mehendi art as a part if multiculturalism or ganga-jamuni tehzeeb.
Every morning, the fresh scent of henna wafts through the air. Whether you visit a local artisan in Shilparamam or the historic alleyways of Old City in Hyderabad, mehendi application still has a distinct cultural fare across Hyderabad. But for a city that loves nostalgia, this is hardly surprising.
A few years ago, Hyderabad’s shopping malls were gripped by a curious fad — mehendi pop-up stalls. One such event was strung together by a group of mehendi artists, who set up a vibrant four-day mela for Ramzan. “I’m going to get an Arabic design done”, one shopper says with a grin as she awaits her turn alongside other women from different religious backgrounds, all looking forward to getting their hands done by professionals. By the end, they had swirled intricate designs onto the hands of as many as 100 customers each day — all entirely for free.
Such curious displays have been an intimate part of the city’s religious celebrations for many decades. During Ganesh Chaturti, a pandal in Begum Bazaar reinvented the wheel by offering mehendi to anyone who came by to seek the idol’s blessings — a 12-feet Ganesh made almost entirely of henna. “We used 400 kg […] to make the idol,” says Satyanarayan, the manufacturer of a local mehendi cone brand who set the pandal up with the help of other traders belonging to the area. Women who stopped by were offered henna designs commemorating how synonymous the art of mehendi is to local celebrations.
This longevity is tied to the history of henna itself. For over 5,000 years, henna was an integral part of life not just in India but for the whole of South Asia. Because of this, many styles like Arabic, Rajasthani, Marwari, and Indian mehendi designs originated across the subcontinent, each known for its own distinct patterns. For many women, however, mehendi is also about a simple pleasure — the satisfying swirl, watching colours change, the anticipation of watching it dry, and finally, the reddish-brown masterpiece they are left with.
Come festive season, Hyderabad sees such emotions in full swing. “After fasting for a month, […] we like dressing up and decorating ourselves. So why would we want our hands to remain empty?” says Syed Sumera Abdul Sattar, a local housewife. Noorjahan, who owns her own mehendi shop, knows this feeling firsthand, recalling how “the demand for mehendi during Eid is unmatched by any other festival.”
The days leading up to Karwa Chauth are a similar story. In 2020, Hyderabad’s mehendi artists even wore PPE kits to safely apply designs for their expectant clients looking to decorate their palms in time for the festival. Some even chose to incorporate the bride and groom wearing a mask as a playful nod to the current times.
Recent accommodations like this have gone a long way in keeping the trade alive. Previously, however, mehendi was done quite differently. Many homes still choose to harvest and ground henna leaves by themselves. But one look at the array of readymade cones in the Old City shows just how much this tradition has changed.
Some local sellers have even found exciting ways to capitalise on this market. Saraswathi Raju, who bought a Shameerpet farm eight years ago, has now started growing gorintaku (henna) trees with the help of her husband and son. After seeing the difficulty locals faced in sourcing fresh leaves, the family came up with the idea of selling their henna leaves individually and as a bunch, along with their existing fruits and vegetables catalogue.
While this is great for those who prefer staining their palms at home, professional henna services are still widely used today, especially by brides-to-be. “Just like clothing, mehendi trends keep changing,” says Noorjahan, who has to constantly adapt her craft for an ever-changing clientele.
One thing that remains certain in Hyderabad is the communal love for mehendi. With recent controversies in other regions and instances of asking Muslim make-up artists not to apply henna to Hindu women, this plurality seems all the more worth preserving. Be it Eid, Bonalu, Diwali, or Karwa Chauth, these simple henna designs continue to be a cultural unifier across all communities. #KhabarLive #hydnews #hydlive #hyderabadlive