It’s not every day you see they skyline of city drawn across a girl’s arms on the eve of her wedding – one city on the left arm and another city on the right. But such drawings, created as henna patterns, are the latest trend amongst brides in the United Arab Emirates.

The trend of the pre-wedding ritual has shifted from just plain old traditional floral designs to personalized patterns that tell a story or include details that are meaningful to the bride and groom.

“It’s either a design that tells the couple’s love story or the story of how they met, which involves drawing all sorts of unique elements,” says Dubai-based henna artist Vandana Makar tells Friday.

Henna or mehendi is traditionally applied to brides in India before their wedding ceremony. The decorative designs are drawn with a paste created from the powdered dry leaves of the henna plant, lawsonia inermis.

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Makar, who has been adorning palms with mehendi for some 25 years, says recent requests have included drawing logos for apps such as Tinder and others that brought the couple together.

“Or things like planes, if they’ve flown to meet each other, flags of the countries, city skylines, the wedding logo, and in one case where it was a Bengali bride and Punjabi Sardar groom, I drew a traditional Bengali girl and a man with a turban,” she explains.

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Another Dubai-based henna artist, Mira Kiran Dubal, adds that brides are looking for a combination of creative yet traditional ways to ensure the decorative patterns represent their narratives.

“For example, they want figures like dulha dulhan [bride and groom] but with a story like the baraat [groom’s procession], doli [palanquin], garland exchange, bidai [going away of the bride to the groom’s home] and more modern ones tell a love story or include portraits, skylines and other unique elements,” Dubal says.

A recent design Dubal did for Dubai-based bride Serena Khushboo Sajnani included a fusion of skylines and about 14 custom elements from her love story.

This included her husband Rahul’s restaurant logo, portraits, and the Dubai and London skyline with an airplane to represent their relationship going the distance while her childhood sweetheart was away at university in the UK.

“I knew one thing for sure that I wanted Rahul’s face on my hand,” Sajnani, 24, tells Friday.

The artist then drew a boy proposing to a girl on the other palm. The mehendi design matched Sajnani’s bridal lehenga, which was also customized to tell the couple’s love story.

“The henna took thirteen-and-a-half hours, which was exhausting but worth it,” Sajnani adds.

Henna artist Amrin Wahid tells Friday she once had a request from an Indian Punjabi bride to cover most of her body in henna patterns. “She did her full hands, full legs, including thighs, her full back, and her neckline. It was crazy but very fun doing it.”

Dubai resident Chandan Mathrawala Bathia tells Friday she got her inspiration from various designs she saw and marked on various wedding planning sites and social media.

Both Serena and Chandan decided to personlise the tradition of mehendi with modern patterns
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Her vision was for her henna to be “like a painting” that told her long-distance love story.

With the Dubai skyline on one arm and the London skyline on the other, to represent where her husband Kumar is from, her mehndi represented both cities that served as the backdrop in their story.

“Traditionally, the maximum a person would do is hide the groom’s initials in the pattern,” Bathia says. “This was just a nice way to sort of make it more about us and more memorable, and a way of telling our story.”