A blog sponsored by the Michigan State University Museum's Michigan Traditional Arts Program, a partnership with the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs. Sharing news and information about the Great Lakes Folk Festival, Quilt Index, the MSU Museum's traditional arts activities, Great Lakes traditional artists and arts resources, and much more. Development of content for this blog supported by funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Thursday, August 1, 2013


Anshu Varma was born in north India and grew up in Calcutta and New Delhi. As a child she was fascinated by the tradition of meh'ndi, a paste of henna used to decorate the hands and feet with ornate patterns, the result being like a temporary tattoo. Greatly inspired by her mother's artistic creations meh'ndi, Anhsu learned the art of meh'ndi, sometimes simply called henna, at home.

Henna plays an important role in maintaining cultural and traditional identity in India. The tradition in India is associated especially with wedding ceremonies where putting henna on the bride's palms and feet represents "dressing" the bride. It is, however, appropriate to be decorated with henna at all festive events. Being dressed in henna sets the celebratory mood of the community.

Today, Anshu is a master of the art. Now living in Michigan, she continues to teach the art of henna at public libraries statewide. She was a recipient of a Michigan Traditional Arts Apprenticeship award in 2002 and 2003.

She is regular participant at the Great Lakes Folk Festival where, for a small fee, she "dresses" visitors with meh'ndi, then generously donates these fees to the Michigan State University Museum to support the Great Lakes Folk Festival. Join her to get a fun henna tattoo. (Unlike a traditional tattoo in which ink is inserted into the skin, henna makes a rust colored stain that stays on top of the skin and fades gradually.)