From adorning brides' hands, to being used to make hip tattoos on arms and bellies, Mehendi or Henna has gone international. Once a typically Indian custom and an indispensable part of a brides makeup, Mehendi has gone cosmopolitan thanks to the attention it gets through stars like Madonna ,No Doubt and Bjork.

Used at weddings by brides and brides maids, it completes the bridal attire, it's also considered auspicious, believed to bring luck and beauty.. and finally part of superstition ,the darker the mehendi is, the more the mother in law will love you..and mother-in-laws playing an important role in indian marriages!..various things are done to achieve this. The dried mehendi is oiled, hour after hour, a mixture of lemon and honey is applied to it, it's held over a flame and finally it's not even washed but scraped off! Now mehendi as a tattoo, doesn't come with any such hassels, the darker it is..the longer it lasts!

Mehendi, that fragrant print on the hands, has a history and a following that's fast crossing international boundaries. Associated mainly with happy occasions and festivals among almost all communities, this Idd really meant boom time for those in the mehendi business. Mohammed Ismail who runs a mehendi store at Bori Mohalla, Mumbai says, " I used to get more than 1,000 customers daily during Ramzan. Our 100-year-old family profession has come a long way, from selling the standard dry powdered mehendi during festivals only, to now supplying a wide variety perennially.

"There is the regular red mehendi, which can be outlined with black mehendi and silver or gold mehendi for filling up the designs with (some may consist of chemical dyes). Two years ago, tattoo stickers were introduced for the arms, nails, ears or forehead." Ismail has many customers taking kilos of mehendi abroad where it is quite expensive.

In the old days, mehendi meant a night's wait for the colour to register. " Nowadays everything is quick and easy," says Shahnaz Abdulla Hussaini, a professional mehendiwalli for a decade now." People expect special mehendi ingredients for the best colour, and professionals like us to finish fast. The elite class and film personalities like to experiment with designs and areas of application. I have applied mehendi on entire arms, the lower back, cheeks and around the neck," she says.

Shahnaz belongs to an informal group of mehendi professionals -- men and women who help each other make new customers. There is one Maheshbhai, the best in this group, who specialises in bridal mehendi. Recently he applied mehendi for a top Bollywood actress on the occasion of her wedding reception in the city.

For bridal mehendi, the Gujarati and Marwari styles depict entire baraats on the bride's hand with the wedding couple, doli, kalash, baraatis, tabla players, elephants and peacocks too. The Mughlai and Arabic styles are not as minute. They have enlarged curvy floral designs with thick outlines. Prices for application vary from Rs 1,500 to Rs 5,000 or more for the bride and Rs 75 or more per hand for others. Says Bhavna Rane, a mehendiwalli. " A good mehendi artist can earn up to a lakh in a month. This is such a lucrative business that I'm planning to induct my daughter into it too," she says.

In the last couple of years -- more so since Madonna sported it in her music album Ray of Light henna has evolved into an art form at the international level and people have been capitalising on it. We have music albums on the subject, countless design books in the market and secret colouring formulae sold for hefty amounts.

Back home, it has been quite exploited for its promotional value. Restaurants and food festivals offer free mehendi application as an added attraction. Till last year Seasons, the clothes super store, was hosting mehendi contests during the Marriage season. And recently the Citywalk shoe store advertisement read, While you decorate your feet with your choice of shoes, we decorate your hands with the colours of mehendi 'FREE' .

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