When talking about Rajasthani mehndi, henna artists may be discussing one of two things. Firstly, it could refer to a certain kind of henna that grows in the state of Rajasthan, India, which is prized for the dark red mehndi patterns it produces on the skin. Rajasthani mehndi may also refer to designs specific to that area of India. Patterns from Rajasthan tend to be more complicated and elaborate than designs elsewhere in India. This is likely because Rajasthan natives have easy access to the deeply pigmented henna leaves that are so prized throughout the rest of the world.
The weather and soils in most parts of Rajasthan, India, are not kind to farmers. This state gets very little rain and the soils are not typically rich or loamy. Those who can irrigate, have access to fertilizers, and have enough land to rotate crops may grow a variety of products, but this isn’t the case for all Rajasathani farmers. Mehndi henna crops traditionally need very little water and almost no attention from the gardener, making it ideal for planting in this part of India.
Most Rajasthani mehndi farmers start henna cuttings or seeds in the damp mud along river banks. This mud is rich in silt and nutrients from the river water, so it is also moist for most of the year. The henna plants spring up and thrive in this soil until they grow to about 6 inches (about 12 cm) in height. The farmers then transplant the seedlings to large, plantation-like fields where they grow to maturity in the dry heat.
Some speculate that it is the lack of water that makes the pigment from Rajasthani mehndi plants so dark and rich in color. The leaves contain very concentrated amounts of nutrients, meaning they also contain a high volume of mehndi dyes. These ideal growing conditions make Rajasthani mehndi one of Rajasthan’s largest exports.
The patterns made with Rajasthani mehndi are usually quite intricate. They almost always appear on the hands and feet of Indian brides, trailing from the elbows to the fingertips and from the knees to the tips of the toes. The courtyard design represents marital unity, happiness, and the fact that the husband and wife now belong to each other. This design usually appears as an detailed band wrapping around the woman's wrist, arm, leg, or ankle.
Waves, dicing games, and fans are also popular Rajasthani mehndi designs. The games represent prosperity and wedded bliss, while the waves and fans are symbols of good fortune. The bridal party often begins applying mehndi several days before the actual ceremony. This additional time allows the henna to really penetrate the skin, and gives the bridal attendants an opportunity to create extremely elaborate images.