Rituals and customs of India – The Mehendi

There are many traditions that are followed in India and when it comes to weddings ,the  rituals are never ending. The Euphoria lasts for days, starting with the mehendi followed by the sangeet and culminating in the actual wedding. Some people have the sangeet before the mehendi ceremony. These rituals help to cement the relationship between the two families who will be joined together by marriage.

It is a custom to adorn the hands and feet of the bride with mehendi (Henna) It is usually done in intricate patterns and takes up to a few hours to get the whole process completed. While the bride is adorned, the friends and relatives also follow suit.

mehendi design on the hand (pic by Joe)

This is a photograph I clicked of a friend of mine who got recently married. A good artist inscribes the name of the groom in these intricate pattern (with the alphabets hidden within the design ). It is said that on the wedding night the groom is supposed to locate his complete name in this maze. So it depends upon the skill of the artist to keep the groom (and the bride) awake till dawn, searching for the name.

Once the mehendi is applied the lady is in no position to use the hands for some time as it takes a couple of hours for the wet mehendi to dry. (a good excuse to be fed by others)

A few drops of lime juice is applied on the wet mehendi. This ensures that the mehendi remains dark and prominent once the dried hard crust falls off.

mehendi design on the feet (pic by Joe)

At times the men folk also get the mehendi applied. For those who are averse to the fancy pattern, just a small blob will do.

It is said that when a bride has mehendi done for her wedding, the darker the design, the more her mother-in-law loves her (or the hubby loves her). A bride is not expected to perform any household chores  until her mehendi has faded (and it is jokingly reputed that some lazy brides may secretly re-do their henna designs to prolong their leisure).

All said and done, I think this is much better than getting oneself tattooed.

Here is a picture of 4 pairs of hands just after the application of Mehendi.

mehendi on four pairs of hand (pic by Joe)

Now let me see if I can identify these hands. It should not be a problem as they belong to my sister, wife, daughter, and niece.

The Sangeet remains the most vibrant and fun part of an Indian wedding. It takes place two or three days before the wedding. The Sangeet ceremony , customarily celebrated in the Northern parts of India  is now being  included as a part of the festivities even in the Southern wedding ceremonies, largely due to influence of Bollywood. Earlier only ladies were supposed to take part in this event but now a days, gents who are very close to the family do join in the fun and frolic and dance the night away. The beat of the Dholki ( or the drum) is used to give a rhythm and a second person keeps tapping on the dholki with a spoon. I am still trying to figure out why a spoon is used.

Sangeet is nothing but a good natured ribbing of the couple and their family. It goes on late into the night, followed by a grand dinner.

A wedding is supposed to be a happy event and I think the Mehendi and the Sangeet contribute to it.

Author: Joe

Born and bred in Bombay (now Mumbai) having spend the last 41 years in Pune (earlier Poona). Have been into photography for quite some time but got hold of a digital in 2003 and since then have been shooting away to glory. Hate posed photographs and like to shoot the daily life around us. Nothing like traveling and observing the local people and their culture.


  1. Nisha Jha says:

    Nice post. And here’s a video which will enhance this post. 🙂


  2. Pam Brown says:

    Nice post about popular Indian marriage tradition. Do they do this only during marriage or for other functions also?

    Nice video link too.

    • Thanks Pam. Frankly speaking now a days every one just waits for a chance to get together and have fun, so any occasion is a good occasion to apply Mehendi especially for the youngsters. But traditionally it is a pre- wedding custom, in northern parts of India.

  3. Hey great article…
    Actually I wait all the year round for different festivals like ‘Karwa chauth”, festivals like Rakshabandhan and any other lame excuse to apply mehendi…for those who have never used mehendi the smell and the cooling effect it has is definitely enticing and alluring!

  4. This is an interesting post, I read about Mehendi somewhere. During my visit I tried to find a place where they put Mehendi. But due to time limitation, I did not find the place. During my next visit to India, I am sure I’ll find a place where I can see how they draw various arts.

    • Thanks Steve. Finding a Mehendi artist won’t be difficult, you have to just ask around, and if you are staying in a hotel, they will be able to guide you as they have their own sources.

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