A mehndi dance is a traditional pre-wedding ritual in South Asian countries, particularly in India and Pakistan. The ceremony is celebrated by the bride’s family at her home or a banquet hall. The dance takes its name from the Hindi meaning of mehndi, which refers to the ritual painting of the bride’s body with henna. The music and costumes for the dance are chosen very carefully by the bride and the female participants.
Although it is now part of many Hindu festivals, mehndi was traditionally used as a body decoration for brides. In the ritual, Henna leaves are ground on a stone, and the ground henna is then mixed with oil to form a paste. Modern brides can now purchase henna applicators in stores. Some still prefer the traditional method, as it is said to create darker and richer colors.
Typically the henna paste is applied to the bride’s hands and feet. Some mehndi body paintings reach above the wrists and the lower shins. In appearance, the decorations resemble tattoos. Mehndi is typically for brides but in some countries the bridegroom may request to be painted as well. Often the bride will have her intended husband’s name or initials hidden within the mehndi designs.
Traditional mehndi designs are suns painted on the palms of the hands. These represent the inner and outer suns and the “inner mind.” Henna paste is applied with a cone or small artist’s paint brush. The bride’s decorated skin is then wrapped in tape or tissue for several hours. The resulting decorations are a reddish brown color and last for a few days.
A very important part of the wedding ritual, mehndi dances are carefully orchestrated. Traditional mehndi dances like the Bhangra and the Dandiya are derived from ancient folk dances celebrating harvests. Some of the dance steps mirror the act of reaping in the fields.
Modern brides have a much greater selection for their mehndi dance. A popular form of Mehndi dance is “Bollywood.” This essentially uses the dance steps and music from popular Bollywood films. Belly dancing is often included. There are mehndi dance DVDs available to help choreograph the event. The women attending a mehndi dance have usually practiced their steps together several times before the event.
Music for the dance has also expanded for modern weddings. Traditionally danced to a lyre, mehndi steps are now accompanied by synthesized music and guitars performed live or previously recorded. Dance steps can include a mix of modern and traditional steps. A great deal of preparation generally goes into choosing themes for the dance.
Costumes for the mehndi dance are also important. As with the music and dance steps, some element of tradition is usually retained. Traditional costumes are accented with such things as sequins or jewelry or some other modern touch. Very bright colors of red, yellow, and pink are most often used. There are mehndi shops with experts that specialize in helping brides plan every aspect of their dances.