Indian Henna

Photos by Shay Spaniola // Text by Erica Wedes


Showing your henna is like telling someone a secret about your soul.

The art of henna is a common and intimate spiritual tradition in India among brides. With the lower arms and hands as her canvas, the artist improvises a drawing directly on the skin, channeling energy and translating body language into meaningful pattern.

A mother, daughter and cousin with henna walked by us after lunch in the Ashram yesterday. Lacking a common language, Shay and I smiled and pointed to their arms to compliment the henna swirls so foreign to us. After a fifteen minute game of charades, we were zigzagging arm in arm with the women past the cows through the street market to find henna. The daughter, Maneesha, insisted we be her canvas.

Sitting on the cool marble of the courtyard, Maneesha held Shay’s hand with her own and painted with her other. She applied the henna as if frosting a cake, applying even pressure with grace to the cone-shaped tube. One swirl led to a petal led to a line, led to a dot, to another dot, another dot, unveiling brown mud that danced down the arms to the fingertips.