In Indian cultures, a wedding isn't just one "big day"—it's a series of celebrations occurring before and after the couple exchanges vows. The Mehndi party is one of the most vibrant and essential of the parties. We chatted with wedding planners Lauren Chitwood, of Louisville, Kentucky-based Lauren Chitwood Events, and Lili Marsh, of Inspired Karma Weddings & Events in central California, to get the scoop on everything you need to know about attending a Mehndi party.
What exactly is a Mehndi party?
Mehndi—or mehendi or henna—is an ancient form of body art, originating in India and across South Asia and the Middle East. A Mehndi party is the pre-wedding celebration in Hindu and Sikh culture when the bride has the red-orange mehndi "stain" applied to her palms, back of hands, and feet. Typically held the day before the wedding, the event often has a lounge feel, with colorful pillows. Although these parties were traditionally held in the bride's home, today's bride is opting to host it at an outside venue.
Mehndi isn't just for style.
There's a reason the party occurs so close to the ceremony: Tradition says the deeper the color of the bride's mehndi, the happier the bride and groom's marriage will be. Designs symbolize various blessings, luck, joy, and love, Marsh says, adding that the groom's name is usually hidden somewhere in the intricate patterns.
The guest list is total girl power.
As far as wedding celebrations go, the Mehndi party has the most girl power. Customarily, only women—on both sides of the aisle—attend: mothers, bridesmaids, future sisters-in-law, and other close family members and friends. "A large wedding could see 75 to 150 women attend a Mehndi," Chitwood says, but can be smaller depending on the bride and her family. Because of this, it is not the event to be fashionably late for. "Be on time! Since the guest list is often smaller for this one event, it is an honor to be invited," Marsh says.
You'll probably get mehndi applied, too.
Guests can often opt to have henna applied—though less elaborate than the bride's—so be mindful of etiquette. "If you are getting henna applied, don't hog the show—keep it limited to one design and one appendage! Let everyone have their chance," Marsh advises.
Keep the little black dress in your closet.
If you're getting mehndi, Chitwood and Marsh both have some fashion tips: "Wear short sleeves so your hands are exposed," Chitwood says. "Make sure you're comfortable because you'll have to sit for a long period of time." And leave the earth tones at home. "Don't wear your favorite little black dress!" Marsh says. "For non-Indian guests who may not have a sari or lehenga, mix and match as much color as you can to make a statement as bright colors are encouraged." Not forget to accessorize, either. "Jewelry is very important to the Indian culture for this event, so remember to go all out," Chitwood adds.
Put on your dancing shoes.
Because Mehndi application can take a long time, entertainment is a must. There's generally Indian music and dancing, and, traditionally, you could be part of that entertainment. "Show up in a festive mood, ready to party, sing and dance," Marsh says. "It is often the 'job' of the guests to perform short skits and dances to keep the bride entertained." Chitwood adds that nowadays, a bride sometimes hires entertainment, such as belly dancers, for the event.
Don't worry about a gift.
In fact, you're likely to leave a Mehndi party with a gift yourself. "No gift is needed, as the bride will have favors for you! These may include things like colorful dupattas, perfume bottles, small beaded bags, and, of course, bangles! A staple at most Mehndi parties," Marsh says.
You'll eat food from the heart.
"Food is extremely important. Dishes should represent what both families love," Chitwood says, adding that brides often highlight their favorite foods growing up. Traditional Indian food is always the name of the game, Marsh says, though she advises her clients to also offer Western selections as well. While there will be lots to eat, don't expect a sit-down meal. Chitwood always recommends finger foods to fit with the "lounge" feel of the party.