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What Are Bridal Mehndi?

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  • Written By: Donna Tinus
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 04 December 2016
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Mehndi, also called a henna tattoo, is a traditional temporary skin decoration using henna that is often applied for weddings in India, Morocco, or Pakistan. Bridal mehndi is applied on the bride's feet and hands the night before she gets married, so she will have beautiful designs on her skin for her wedding. Traditionally, only the bride gets the mehndi, but occasionally the man will also have his hands and feet decorated.

The skin on the hands and feet is typically darker than the rest of the body and contains higher levels of keratin, which helps the main color ingredient in henna, lawsone, adhere to the skin better. Also, an Indian woman dressed in traditional wedding garb only has her hands and feet showing. For these two reasons, the hands and feet are usually decorated. A picture of the sun, which represents the mind, is prominent among the traditional designs drawn on the bride's hands and feet. The groom's name is woven among the intricate motifs such as conchshells, peacocks, and flowers.

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The night before the wedding, the bride's female family gather together to aid in the application of the henna on the bride. This is called a henna party, or mehndi party, and may take place at the bride's home, or perhaps at a banquet hall. A professional mehndi artist is employed to apply the henna. The bridal mehndi represents the bride's transformation from an innocent young girl to a temptress for her husband. The evening's festivities are filled with stories, songs, and dancing.

During the evening's festivities at the mehndi party, someone will regularly apply lemon juice to the henna to make it darker. After the henna is applied, it takes 24 hours for it to fully dry. During this time, the bride must be careful not to smudge the henna. Someone must do everything for her, since she can't use her hands. Her male family members perform her chores for her.

Henna comes in a powdered form, and is mixed with oil and other ingredients. It is then applied to the skin using a homemade cone, a Moroccan syringe, or paint brush. To make the mixing process as simple as possible, henna can be purchased already mixed and packed in the cone, so all the artist has to do is draw the designs. In olden days, women in India ground henna leaves on a stone. They then added oil to the ground henna, producing a darker color than dried henna does.

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candyquilt
Post 3

@burcinc-- That's very interesting. I actually think it's a great idea. I've also heard that the bride cannot do housework until her bridal mehndi has completely faded. Is that true?

Overall, it seems like bridal mehndi is a very important wedding tradition for various different reasons.

burcinc
Post 2

@donasmrs-- We are talking about bridal mehndi specifically though, not other types of mehndi.

I've read that in Southeast Asia, bridal mehndi also includes the name of the groom in the design. And apparently, the groom is expected to find his name in the bride's hands before they consummate the marriage.

If you think about it, Southeast Asia has always had a culture of arranged marriage. It is still tradition today. If the bride and groom barely know one another, it may be very awkward to be together on the first night. So the whole finding the name in the mehndi tradition seems to be a nice excuse for a little playfulness to get the couple acquainted with one another. So bridal mehndi does serve a purpose in this regard.

donasmrs
Post 1

I find the idea of using bridal mehndi to transform the bride "from an innocent to a temptress" as a little incorrect, and if true, very regressive in thought.

I have many Indian friends and I am from the Middle East myself. Mehndi is not a foreign concept for me at all. I know that in India, girls start wearing mehndi from a very young age. It is just a form of decoration, much like jewelry or makeup. And it is common for women to wear mehndi for special occasions such as holidays, birthdays, etc. Thus, the bridal mehndi ceremony is not the first or last time that a woman will wear mehndi. It is certainly done to beautify the bride but what does innocence or sexuality have anything to do with it?

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