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Wedding mehndi, also known as bridal mehndi, are generally considered a crucial part of a traditional Hindu wedding ceremony. They typically consist of intricate designs drawn with henna on the feet, hands, arms, and ankles of the bride, and sometimes on the hands of the groom. The dye is generally applied to the skin in a paste form, and allowed to dry over three to eight hours. The dry paste is eventually wiped off, leaving behind a deep reddish-brown pattern that will remain on the skin for about four weeks. Wedding mehndi do not typically have spiritual significance, but are believed to bring good luck and prosperity to the newly wedded couple.
The application of wedding mehndi for a Hindu bride is often done one or two days before she is wed. The bride's female relatives typically gather together for the ceremony, and much fanfare may be made, although this is not obligatory. An expert is generally called in to apply one of four types of intricate henna designs to the bride's hands, feet, ankles, legs, wrists, and arms. The four categories of wedding mehndi are the classical pattern, the royal pattern, the elegant pattern, and the star pattern.
Once the mehndi expert has applied the henna paste to the bride's skin, she will normally be obliged to sit still as it dries. This is often considered an ideal time for the bride's female friends and relatives to offer the bride advice about marriage and married life.
A number of superstitious beliefs and traditions are associated with the wedding mehndi ceremony and the wearing of the mehndi. The depth and richness of the final color is said to correspond to the level of affection that will exist between the bride and her new mother-in-law. The darker the mehndi, the better the two women will get along.
The mehndi artist will often hide the names of the bride and groom somewhere within the pattern. On the wedding night, the groom will search the mehndi pattern for his name and the bride's name. According to tradition, the wedding cannot be consummated until the groom has located both names within the mehndi pattern, and the bride is considered free from household duties until the mehndi patterns have faded.
Though this particular wedding tradition is generally associated with India and Asia, it is believed to have originated in the Middle East. Scholars believe that the use of henna for applying temporary tattoo-like patterns to the skin may have begun in Egypt as long as 5,000 years ago. Mughal invaders are credited with introducing this art form to India in the 12th century CE.
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