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Americans Embrace Centuries-Old Art Form

  • Arti Jain
  • Amy Katz

It is believed that the art of body painting with henna dye dates back to the Middle East 5,000 years ago. From there it traveled to parts of Asia and became especially popular on the Indian subcontinent. Now, thanks to American celebrities like Madonna and Gwen Stefani, who discovered the ancient art, henna has found a new following in the United States. Arti Jain of VOA's Hindi Service filed this report from Los Angeles. It is narrated by Amy Katz.

Darcy Van Gelder got interested in henna art -- or Mehandi -- ten years ago. She loved it so much she became a professional henna artist. She believes that henna is no longer just a fashion fad for a few celebrities.

"Lately it has entered a very middle class mainstream,” she says. “I am seeing a lot of conservative, middle-aged people who are living in the suburbs, wanting to do Mehandi for things like their house parties and even for weddings and things like that."

Americans are even hosting "Henna Parties." They are much like what are know as "Henna Nights" in eastern cultures -- friendly gatherings where people socialize and apply henna for each other.

Traditionally henna was used to adorn the hands and feet of a bride. But now, it is even being painted on much less traditional body parts.

"It is beautiful to see the belly as something positive, and happy, and auspicious, rather than something that should be covered," says Ms. Van Gelder.

Men are even getting into the act. Gordon Fontaine, explains why he had his feet decorated.

"I was thinking the hands are a beautiful place to get it but as a man I am just not as comfortable in getting it on my hands."

In California, it is now popular to hire henna artists for parties. And it is catching on in the corporate world, too. Renda Dabit -- who opened a store where she applied henna, soon saw her business explode [grow rapidly]. Ms. Dabit says she believes there are many reasons to have the temporary art applied.

"Henna has become whatever people want it to be, it depends to who it is, it becomes that. You know it could be just art, it could be part of a cultural background, it could be just a way to decorate yourself with, a trying out a tattoo before you get a real tattoo," says Ms. Dabit.

It seems in the U.S., the ancient art of henna painting has become a modern day trend.

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