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Everything to Know Before Attending a Mehndi Party

We break down what to expect at this traditional Indian celebration.
Sarah Hanlon
by Sarah Hanlon
Updated May 21, 2020

If there's one thing to know about traditional Indian wedding ceremonies, it's that vibrance and extravagance are of the utmost importance. Most weddings span more than one day—in fact, it's common to have at least two to three days of activities leading up to the wedding day. One of the most common (and important) prewedding events is the mehndi party. It's here that the couple is joined by their loved ones to get henna tattoos (or mehndi designs) applied to their bodies before the wedding day. Live music and dancing almost always accompany the tattooing process, resulting in a celebration that honors love and togetherness. 

Given the popularity of fusion weddings, couples are putting unique twists on tradition. Some may opt to host only a mehndi party, while others may combine it with other popular ceremonies (like a sangeet). Regardless of how to-be-weds make these lavish events fit their wedding vision, there are a few things to know before attending a mehndi party. We break down all you need to know about this Indian wedding tradition before you go. 

What is a Mehndi Party? 

Henna tattoos play an integral role at traditional Indian weddings. Before the wedding ceremony, couples (and occasionally their wedding parties) often have intricate designs painted on their hands, arm and feet. This practice originated in India and the Middle East, and remains an important part of the wedding process. Today, the practice of wearing wedding henna tattoos is common among Hindu and Muslim communities. 

The dye for henna tattoos is made from the mehndi plant, so both terms can sometimes be used interchangeably. The dark color is most vibrant immediately after application, so couples host mehndi parties just before their wedding ceremonies so the henna designs are as rich as possible. Legends even allege that a richer mehndi color contributes to a happier marriage. To make the experience inclusive for loved ones, couples host large mehndi ceremonies to involve their family members, wedding party and close friends in the experience too. 

What Happens at a Mehndi Party? 

What happens at traditional Indian mehndi parties is up to the hosts. Some may choose to have the mehndi party and the sangeet together to create one large celebration. A sangeet, for reference, is another prewedding event that consists of dancing, singing and celebrating for the couple and their closest relatives and friends. This extravagant celebration often happens the night before the wedding ceremony, so many opt to host their mehndi party within their sangeet. Priyanka Chopra, who hosted a sangeet with Nick Jonas before their high-profile wedding, called it "a fierce song and dance competition between the families" that ended "as a huge celebration of love." 

Regardless of whether these events are hosted together or separately, there are a few key elements to expect at a bridal henna party. It will most likely be hosted at the couple's home (or one of a close family member's), though some may choose to rent a venue. Mehndi parties are more intimate than the wedding ceremony, so being invited is an honor. You'll get to experience cultural traditions firsthand, so attending with an open mind and willingness to learn more is key. The most important factor of a mehndi party is, of course, the application of henna tattoos. You'll join the couple and their families as they receive hand-painted, elaborate designs on their bodies. 

Mehndi parties are often planned to have a relaxed vibe, so expect to see plenty of comfortable (and colorful) seating options, as well as a variety of traditional Indian food to enjoy throughout the night. And, as with most cultural events, there will be plenty of singing and dancing. You might also get to experience live entertainment and performers as well. 

What Should You Wear to a Mehndi Party? 

Depending on the bride's preferences, you may have the opportunity to receive henna tattoos. If so, wear an outfit with short sleeves so your hands and arm are exposed. A traditional lehenga or saree isn't required—but if you want to wear one, go for it! Otherwise, any formal outfit with lots of color (and jeweled bangles and accessories) are perfectly appropriate. (Pro tip: You can find traditional Indian wedding guest outfits on Rent the Runway, so you can dress the part without investing in an outfit.) As with most dress code requests, you can find attire details on the formal invitation or the couple's wedding website. One thing to consider, though, is comfort. Mehndi application isn't a quick process (and the intricate patterns will need time to dry), so you may have to sit still to avoid smudges. Make sure your outfit lends itself to being worn for a long time. 

What matters most, though, isn't what you wear. Instead, go prepared to enjoy an evening of celebrating love and togetherness. After all, those are the most important values of traditional Indian wedding events. 

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