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What Is a Mehndi Ceremony?

By Marlene Garcia
Updated May 23, 2024
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A mehndi ceremony occurs before the wedding as a traditional ritual in Muslim culture. It involves application of henna in intricate designs to the hands and feet of the bride-to-be by a professional henna artist or a female relative. The mehndi ceremony is a festive event attended by female relatives of the prospective bride and her close friends. It is scheduled a few days before the wedding or the night before.

Henna, a dye from a flowering plant, symbolizes a woman’s evolution from a virgin girl to a woman in the mehndi ceremony. The groom’s name might be hidden in the design of applied henna. In some regions, henna is applied by the future mother-in-law or prospective sister-in-law during the mehndi ceremony. The ritual commonly occurs in the bride’s home and includes festive, traditional songs, dancing, and a feast. In addition to henna, turmeric paste is applied to the bride’s face during the mehndi ceremony to create a fresh, glowing complexion.

The henna remains on the hands and feet until the wedding day and becomes darker with exposure to air. The future bride does not leave her home after the mehndi ceremony until her wedding day. In the Indian culture, the darkening of the henna symbolizes the degree of acceptance of the bride by the groom’s family. The shade of the henna might also indicate the degree of success of the marriage.

A mehndi ceremony usually follows a mangni ceremony, where the couple exchanges rings. At this ritual event, the future bride typically wears a dress presented as a gift from her future in-laws. A wedding date is set at this ceremony.

The wedding ceremony, called nikaah, is conducted by a priest, with fathers of the bride and groom playing pivotal roles. After the priest reads passages from the Quran, relatives of the groom propose, and the proposal is accepted by the bride’s family. Women and men typically sit separately at the wedding ceremony and subsequent dinner. The official marriage document includes signatures of the priest and bride’s father. It spells out conditions of the marriage and gives the bride the right to divorce if the union fails.

The wedding dinner commonly includes a bounty of traditional foods. After the meal, the bride and groom are re-united to read prayers. They may only look at each other through mirrors at this point in the ceremony. The groom takes his new bride home to his parents' home after the wedding, where she is prohibited from any domestic chores until the henna fades away.

Four days later, the bride is allowed to visit her family, which is typically a joyous occasion. Once this ritual visit concludes, the groom’s family prepares a feast for the bride’s family. This dinner symbolizes the unity of the two families and their support for the newlyweds.

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Discussion Comments

By Glasis — On Feb 27, 2014

A popular trend in mixed marriages, where the bride and groom have different cultural of ethnic backgrounds, is for two ceremonies to take place, often on the same day or in the same weekend.

Since Muslim wedding customs are much more strict and elaborate than those of most western cultures and Mehndi ceremony decorations are a large part of the ritual, the Muslim wedding often is held before the other ceremony.

This may make it difficult for the traditional Muslim wedding dinner and other customs to be carried out exactly according to the rules, so to speak.

However, many ceremonies in mixed marriages are modified to incorporate the wishes and customs of both the bride and groom and their respective families.

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