What is Mehndi?

bride with mehndi on her hands

Mehndi Party

The Mehndi party is one of the most festive and exciting celebrations in a South Asian wedding. People often picture a Mehndi party similar to a Bollywood movie scene with choreographed dancing, bright colorful dresses, and bhangra music. If that’s what you imagined as well, you wouldn’t be wrong, but there is so much more to know about this tradition.

The History and Meaning of the Mehndi Party

Mehndi, also known as henna, is a dye made from Lawsonia inermis, the henna plant. Due to its natural cooling properties, people from warmer climates including the Indian subcontinent, Africa, and the Middle East, have been using henna paste to help control their body temperature for centuries. According to Ahmed, mehndi also has medicinal properties: The cooling provides relief from stress, fever, and headaches, so it’s said to calm the bride’s nerves when applied to her hands and feet.

For thousands of years, mehndi has been used as a form of body art. This is why the Mehndi party is often held the day before the wedding—to beautify and bless the bride before her big day. In the Hindu tradition, mehndi is part of the Solah Shringar, or sixteen bridal adornments, which is a ritual for the beautification of the bride from head to toe at the time of her wedding. Mehndi is also encouraged in the Muslim tradition as a hair dye or to beautify women’s hands.

Traditionally, it’s said that the darker the stain of the mehndi, the more love the bride will receive from her husband and in-laws. Brides were also told that they shouldn’t do any housework for as long as the stain lasts, which according to Ahmed’s experience, can be up to two to three weeks if natural henna is used.

What to Expect at a Mehndi Party?

When you attend a Mehndi party, get ready for a night of fun with lots of food, music, and dancing. Traditionally, the bride would have intricate henna patterns applied to her hands and feet during the event. In modern times, the bride often opts to have a henna artist come to her home before the actual Mehndi party.

The event often starts with over-the-top entrances, one for the bride and one for the groom. Guests feed the soon-to-be couple all types of sweets and in some traditions, charity is given on behalf of the couple to protect them from the evil eye and bless their marriage.

Guests can also expect choreographed dance performances that may have been rehearsed for months. The dances are a form of friendly competition between the bride and groom’s side. Women often sit on the ground in front of the couple singing songs and playing the dhol (a type of drum) surrounded by colorful throw pillows and festive décor.

Who hosts the Mehndi party?

Traditionally, the bride’s side hosts the event because it was often an event for the bride herself. Even though the groom’s side is more involved in modern Mehndi parties, it is still hosted by the bride’s parents.

What should I wear?

The Mehndi party is often all about bright colors and hues of green, orange, yellow, and pink. The bride may have her bridesmaids, sisters or family wear a particular color so it is easy to see which side of the family you belong to. Women wear lenghas, saris, or salwar kameez in bright colors with lots of jewelry and bangles. Male relatives will often wear salwar kameez with the same-colored shawl to show which side they represent.

Do I need to bring a gift?

Absolutely not! Gifts are given at the wedding. The Mehndi party is about wishing the bride well and blessing her marriage – that is the ultimate gift. It’s likely that guests will leave with favors like sweets, bangles, or even henna cones.

How long does it take to apply the mehndi?

For the bride, the process can take anywhere from two to six hours depending on how intricate the design is and how much mehndi the bride wants to be done. “Most brides do both sides of their hands up to their mid-forearm and both feet up to their ankles, but sometimes the bride may want designs all the way up to her elbows and knees, which can take much longer,” says Ahmed. “But we talk a lot during the process so the bride doesn’t get bored and take breaks as well.” For guests who want simple designs, each side of a hand can take five to 10 minutes.

How to Plan a Mehndi Party

1. Select the Venue

According to Saeed, The Mehndi party usually has a smaller guest list, so decide the number of guests and pick your venue accordingly. It’s also important to confirm the floor plan to ensure there is enough room for dances.

2. Decide on Decorations

The Mehndi party is all about bright colors and being as creative as you want. Saeed always reminds her brides to choose colors that contrast their dresses, that way they stand out instead of getting lost in the decorations. Make sure to include a stage where the bride and groom will sit and use a swing for their seating, if possible. You can use bangles, colorful umbrellas, decorative pillows, and even bright fabrics.

Leave the area in front of the stage clear for dances and be prepared to move chairs once the dances begin, especially to give the bride and groom the best view.

3. Music - It's all about the music

This might be one of the most important aspects of the Mehndi party. Make sure you have a playlist ready with hype songs that people can dance to. Hiring a DJ is a good idea, but if you opt to have your own sound system, put someone in charge who can handle the music on the day of the event.

In terms of the dances, make sure your family and friends have their dances prepared. Don’t forget to introduce the dancers before each dance and leave time at the end of the party for an open dance floor.

4. Don't forget about the food.

No event is complete without dinner, but keep it simple and offer just a few options so guests can keep dancing. Saeed always confirms if the venue allows outside catering since most people prefer to bring in traditional South Asian dishes.

5. Stay on schedule

Time the bride’s entrance, the groom’s entrance, when food will be served, and when dancing will start. Realistically, every South Asian event runs late, but it’s good to have set times to aim for so you’re not too behind.

Mehndi also known as Henna

Mehndi, also known as henna across the globe, is a paste often associated with good fortune and positivity. It is one of the oldest forms of body art originated by humans. Women and girls get their hands and feet laden with this paste on auspicious occasions. Be it weddings or festivals like Diwali, Bhai Dooj, Teej or Eid – Mehndi is an extremely cherished way to drench into the celebratory feels for most girls. While some women swoon over its aromatic fragrance, others absolutely love their hands adorned with pretty and intricate mehndi designs. But now, as the time has advanced, it is common for men to apply mehndi as well.

The Mehndi paste is derived from the powdered dry leaves of the henna plant to decorate a person’s body. The leaves are dried in sun and then ground to get a fine mossy green powder. It is then mixed with an adequate amount of water, lemon juice and a few drops of eucalyptus oil to obtain a smooth paste. The paste is further soaked overnight for infusion of all ingredients and then poured in a plastic cone for the application. Moreover, the word ‘Mehndi’ is originally derived from a Sanskrit word ‘Mendhika’ which is referred to the henna plant itself.

As mentioned above, women usually decorate their hands and feet with beautiful mehndi designs. But now, not only men but even cancer patients who lose their hair growth are also making full use of this natural paste to decorate their bald scalps. The mehndi paste is green in color but the standard color it leaves on the skin is brown. However, with the advances in mehndi designs and techniques, colors like white and gold are also being employed.

Interestingly, henna aka mehndi is also of significant relevance in most religions. For Hindus, it is of utmost importance in many traditions and is also a key part of 16 adornments (Solah Shringar). Prophet Muhammad is also known to use mehndi paste to dye his grey beards and advocate the uses of henna to other as well, according to the mentions in Holy Quran.