During weekly bridal appointments, Neha Assar sits cross-legged for five to nine hours as she examines the fine lines and shape of a bride’s hands, gently squeezing the tip of a henna cone and drawing designs and patterns freehand.
It’s a task that involves precision and patience, but tends to be more difficult for the brides than it is for Assar.
“It’s easy for me to sit in one place for six hours,” Assar told NBC News. “It’s harder for the bride to sit down and get her mehndi done.”
The tradition of applying mehndi — or henna — is an integral part of many South Asian weddings, according to Assar, a 35-year-old mother of two from Cerritos, California. The application often kicks off the week-long wedding festivities and celebrations.
“When I sit down, I’m so focused; it’s like meditation for me,” Assar said. “I don’t have anything around — no brain chatter, no thoughts. Literally I’m so engrossed. … It’s a way to get the bride to sit and relax before the chaos starts.”
Assar added that over the years, the artistry behind henna has evolved at fashion shows, red carpet events, music festivals, and various other non-bridal events across the globe.
“Growing up, I’d get teased for my henna and kids would say, ‘what’s that orange stuff on your hands?’ And when my daughter does mehndi, she’s the coolest kid. Times have changed,” she said.
Assar’s journey as a henna artist began as a side gig in high school when she was reluctantly hired on to work as a henna assistant at a salon in Artesia’s “Little India.”
“At that point, I didn’t want to be a mehndi artist…the salon owner said, ‘you’re a little slow, but I’ll hire you anyway,” Assar said.
For practice, she started applying henna on her sister before booking her first bridal clients.
(Alisha Duke Photography)
More than two decades later, henna artistry has become an important part of Assar’s creative lifestyle and has made her a prominent artist in Greater Los Angeles.
Growing up in Cerritos, Assar was greatly influenced by her South Asian upbringing, where emphasis was put on pursuing a career in the sciences instead of the arts.
At a young age, Assar knew she had a creative side. In grade school, she filled composition books cover-to-cover with designs inspired by frequent family trips to India, she said. In high school, Assar excelled in her physics and math classes and decided to major in