Mehndi, also called a henna tattoo, is a traditional temporary skin decoration using henna that is often applied for weddings in India, Morocco, or Pakistan. Bridal mehndi is applied on the bride's feet and hands the night before she gets married, so she will have beautiful designs on her skin for her wedding. Traditionally, only the bride gets the mehndi, but occasionally the man will also have his hands and feet decorated.
The skin on the hands and feet is typically darker than the rest of the body and contains higher levels of keratin, which helps the main color ingredient in henna, lawsone, adhere to the skin better. Also, an Indian woman dressed in traditional wedding garb only has her hands and feet showing. For these two reasons, the hands and feet are usually decorated. A picture of the sun, which represents the mind, is prominent among the traditional designs drawn on the bride's hands and feet. The groom's name is woven among the intricate motifs such as conchshells, peacocks, and flowers.
The night before the wedding, the bride's female family gather together to aid in the application of the henna on the bride. This is called a henna party, or mehndi party, and may take place at the bride's home, or perhaps at a banquet hall. A professional mehndi artist is employed to apply the henna. The bridal mehndi represents the bride's transformation from an innocent young girl to a temptress for her husband. The evening's festivities are filled with stories, songs, and dancing.
During the evening's festivities at the mehndi party, someone will regularly apply lemon juice to the henna to make it darker. After the henna is applied, it takes 24 hours for it to fully dry. During this time, the bride must be careful not to smudge the henna. Someone must do everything for her, since she can't use her hands. Her male family members perform her chores for her.
Henna comes in a powdered form, and is mixed with oil and other ingredients. It is then applied to the skin using a homemade cone, a Moroccan syringe, or paint brush. To make the mixing process as simple as possible, henna can be purchased already mixed and packed in the cone, so all the artist has to do is draw the designs. In olden days, women in India ground henna leaves on a stone. They then added oil to the ground henna, producing a darker color than dried henna does.