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Body art form makes lasting impression

Rao Morusupalli applies the henna paste to a design sketched out on a client's arm. After several hours of absorption, the herbal leaf paste leaves a beautiful design on the skin. Photo by Jeff Holmquist

An ancient art form from India may be appearing more often on local people's bodies.

Rao Morusupalli, new owner of Riverfront Inn & Suites in New Richmond, is an accomplished henna artist who is anxious to show off his skills to visitors to his home and business.

His wife, Lakshmi, prepares the paste using henna and other natural juices and oils.

This past weekend, the Morusupallis hosted several "henna" parties, where they applied the natural plant to the skin of clients in an effort to create colorful patterns. Rao calls the henna offering an added specialty at Riverfront Inn & Suites.

"It's something we want to share with New Richmond," Rao said. "It's fun, people like it and it's a way for us to share our culture. India has a lot to offer the world."

The Morusupalli family said the henna effort is kind of a side business, where they will accept appointment with clients when time permits. Lakshmi said there is a charge for the service, but it's minimal.

A portion of the earnings help support tsunami victims in India by supporting the fund their daughter, Sarala, established several years ago to help those impacted by the huge 2004 storm.

Art history

Henna art dates back some 5,000 years to ancient India and Egypt.

The henna plant's leaves (which Rao and Lakshmi have shipped from India) are ground down to a fine, dark paste, which is left on the skin for several hours. As the paste dries, the pigment in a person's skin turns an orange or burgundy color.

"There is no blood, no needles and no pain," Rao explained.

"Parents can encourage henna, because there is nothing harmful to the bodies and it's not permanent," Lakshmi said.

Henna designs range from floral scenes to elaborate creations. A henna design can be small or cover large portions of someone's body. Many henna projects are applied to a client's hands or feet, but Rao said he's also completed projects on people's bellies, necks and backs.

"It's an art -- just like painting," Rao said. "And it can take a very long time to do."

The body art lasts from one to three weeks, before fading away.

Henna art has traditionally been used to create designs for brides on their wedding day, but is also applied for birthday parties, proms or other occasions.

"Any type of celebration," Rao said.

Hobby & business

Rao learned this form of body art from his grandmother in India.

He would practice the art form on his sisters, and even created henna designs for one of his sisters on her wedding day.

"It really started out as a hobby," Rao said.

But after the Morusupalli family got into the hospitality business in Minnesota, Rao started offering the art service to community members who were looking for something fun to do.

Rao and Lakshmi started "Mystical Henna" since then.

"It's a beautiful art," Rao said. "It's very soothing, sensual and relaxing. It's like meditation."

The popularity of henna art has grown in recent years as a number of celebrities, such as Demi Moore and Madonna, have sported the temporary designs.

The process

As he begins each henna project, Rao either chooses a pattern from a design album or he uses a design provided by the customer.

He then decides how to transfer the pattern on the preferred body location and draws a free-hand sketch of the design.

"I never use any stencils," he said. "I improvise as I go along. The designs are never the same."

After the sketch is complete, Rao applies a thin bead of henna leaf paste to the skin.

He provides cautions to each client, noting that the paste has to remain undisturbed on the skin for several hours to have the best effect. He also notes that the depth of the color will depend on each individual's body chemistry and the body temperature emitted from the client.

After the henna is dried, the client peels off the paste and the artwork is revealed.

"You never know what the results will be until it's all done," Rao said.

For more information on henna art, contact the Morusupalli family at 715-246-4606.