In many Muslim and Hindu weddings, it is tradition to have a henna party before the wedding. During a henna party, artists use a paste made from dried henna leaves to paint intricate patterns on the hands (and sometimes also the feet) of the bridal party. The pigment of henna is quite dark and stains the skin very easily, leaving little room for error or mistakes as it cannot be washed off quickly.
Due to the intricate patterns of the designs and the unforgiving nature of the henna paste, it is imperative for the person who is getting painted to remain very still during the application process.
The henna begins as a paste which is applied by the artist using a paper cone with a fine tip at the end. As the paste dries, it becomes hard and flakes off, which leaves the skin beneath it stained with the intricate designs the artist created. The longer the paste stays on the skin, the darker the stain will become before ultimately fading away.
The bride traditionally gets the most intricate patterns to set her apart from her bridesmaids and the process can take three to six hours to complete. It is suggested that the henna be applied two to three days prior to the wedding so that the paste has ample time to stain the skin; approximately 32-48 hours is optimal.
Bridal Henna Parties
In India, the henna painting ceremony is called a Mehndi party, and it is a joyful occasion.
Because the bride has to sit still for several hours, her friends might dance and sing songs to entertain her or bring her treats. However, they must try to keep from being too distracting to the bride or to the artist, due to the precision needed to complete intricate designs. Mehndi sessions are a tradition from ancient cultures dating back over five thousand years, where the bride-to-be is given all the secrets of a happy and fruitful marriage as told by her closest female family members and friends.
Henna parties also happen throughout the eastern Mediterranean, in Morocco, in the gulf states, and in many expatriate communities throughout the world.
Wedding Henna Designs
It is believed that henna gives blessings, luck, and joy, although it is also seen as a beauty enhancer. Some brides get their future spouse's initials hidden into their mehndi design. There may also be symbolic designs representing joy, luck, success, beauty, and other positive qualities.
When henna is placed on the palms of the hand it is meant to signify that the person is open to receive and offer blessings. When the henna is placed on top of the hands it is meant to signify protection of the person.
The designs themselves can vary from symbols of animals or objects to delicate lace patterns or swirling paisley. For weddings, often the artist will incorporate the groom's name into the artwork for a personal touch. Certain styles of henna design are meant to symbolize fertility.
Want to try doing henna designs yourself for your wedding? Learn more about henna, how to make your own henna paste and create your own henna cones.
Updated and Edited by Jessica Bishop in March 2016.