India is perhaps the most collectivist culture among all Eastern countries. It is a vibrant country of rich cultural heritage and an emphasized variety of festivals which have been enduring their harmonious coexistence throughout centuries.

Vivaah, Indian weddings, particularly, are best known for their almost carnival-ish celebration associated with this revered event. Traditional Hindu weddings usually entail elaborate with pre- and post-wedding ceremonies among which the bridal Mehndi.

Mehndi is both the name of the ceremonial art form and the paste which is used during those ceremonies. It is made from the powdered leaves of the henna plant which is mixed with water. Mehndi is usually applied during cultural, traditional and religious festivities, most commonly at wedding ceremonies. Being one of the 16 adornments of the bride, it is an integral part of the marriage and is usually held at the bride’s house a few days before the wedding itself.
Although the earliest evidence of mehndi application on a human body was found in hair and nails of Egyptian mummies, it eventually immigrated to India for both decorative and medical purposes. Nowadays, transcending the religious and cultural barriers, Mehndi is famous among all South Asian countries, Middle East and Africa.

To address the meaning and essence behind this ritual and its cultural significance, let us look at important aspects of it. A Vedic custom, the use of which is best explained in Hindu Vedic ritual books, the ceremony represents the outer and inner sun and is aimed toward the awakening of the inner light. Mehndi also celebrates the female bonding and pre-wedding sisterhood. Being one of the final moments before marrying into a new family, it is a private affair among the female close friends and relatives of the bride; it mostly serves the purpose of the bridal shower. A sign of good luck – shagun, the application of mehndi represents the bond of matrimony. It symbolizes beautification and the firm union between the soon-to-be-married couple, signifying their love and affection.

Mehndi design patterns are usually applied as a skin decoration by a traditional mehndi artist or a relative, on hands (from palms toward wrists to the bend of elbows) and feet, to target nerve endings in the body. The application of mehndi results in many medicinal benefits. Despite the fact that the process itself is relaxing and nourishing, mehndi is also considered to be an antiseptic. The herb’s medicinal properties and therapeutic features include lowering the body temperature and improving blood circulation; soothing headaches and burning feet, reducing stress and violent temper due to its cooling effect; decreasing the probability of viral diseases before the wedding.

Within the ornate designs of the patterns to adorn the bride, the groom’s initials are applied which he later has to find. This ceremony takes place under the musical beats of Dholak (a large bass drum, sounds like the Armenian դհոլ, exactly! Kudos to Indo-European language family), with women singing traditional songs for the prosperous marital life of the couple. After the ritual, the bride has to stay at home, and as her hands are temporarily dysfunctional, a family member, usually the sister, feeds her during the day. As a tradition, the bride is not allowed to work in her marital house until her Mehndi fades away. It is believed that a slight token of henna on the groom’s hand is a mark of a good omen. Also, the richer the color of the bride’s mehndi, the deeper the husband’s love for her.

Photo Credit © Pinterest

Sources & Further Readings:

  1. http://www.culturalindia.net/weddings/wedding-rituals/mehndi-ceremony.html
  2. http://www.bollywoodshaadis.com/articles/significance-of-mehendi-in-indian-marriages-1939
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