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What Is a Mehndi Dance?

Pablo Garcia
Pablo Garcia

A mehndi dance is a traditional pre-wedding ritual in South Asian countries, particularly in India and Pakistan. The ceremony is celebrated by the bride’s family at her home or a banquet hall. The dance takes its name from the Hindi meaning of mehndi, which refers to the ritual painting of the bride’s body with henna. The music and costumes for the dance are chosen very carefully by the bride and the female participants.

Although it is now part of many Hindu festivals, mehndi was traditionally used as a body decoration for brides. In the ritual, Henna leaves are ground on a stone, and the ground henna is then mixed with oil to form a paste. Modern brides can now purchase henna applicators in stores. Some still prefer the traditional method, as it is said to create darker and richer colors.

The mehndi dance is often celebrated in India when a bride's hands and feet are painted with elaborate henna designs.
The mehndi dance is often celebrated in India when a bride's hands and feet are painted with elaborate henna designs.

Typically the henna paste is applied to the bride’s hands and feet. Some mehndi body paintings reach above the wrists and the lower shins. In appearance, the decorations resemble tattoos. Mehndi is typically for brides but in some countries the bridegroom may request to be painted as well. Often the bride will have her intended husband’s name or initials hidden within the mehndi designs.

Belly dancing is often included in mehndi dances.
Belly dancing is often included in mehndi dances.

Traditional mehndi designs are suns painted on the palms of the hands. These represent the inner and outer suns and the “inner mind.” Henna paste is applied with a cone or small artist’s paint brush. The bride’s decorated skin is then wrapped in tape or tissue for several hours. The resulting decorations are a reddish brown color and last for a few days.

A very important part of the wedding ritual, mehndi dances are carefully orchestrated. Traditional mehndi dances like the Bhangra and the Dandiya are derived from ancient folk dances celebrating harvests. Some of the dance steps mirror the act of reaping in the fields.

Modern brides have a much greater selection for their mehndi dance. A popular form of Mehndi dance is “Bollywood.” This essentially uses the dance steps and music from popular Bollywood films. Belly dancing is often included. There are mehndi dance DVDs available to help choreograph the event. The women attending a mehndi dance have usually practiced their steps together several times before the event.

Music for the dance has also expanded for modern weddings. Traditionally danced to a lyre, mehndi steps are now accompanied by synthesized music and guitars performed live or previously recorded. Dance steps can include a mix of modern and traditional steps. A great deal of preparation generally goes into choosing themes for the dance.

Costumes for the mehndi dance are also important. As with the music and dance steps, some element of tradition is usually retained. Traditional costumes are accented with such things as sequins or jewelry or some other modern touch. Very bright colors of red, yellow, and pink are most often used. There are mehndi shops with experts that specialize in helping brides plan every aspect of their dances.

Discussion Comments


Actually, mehndi before the marriage is not particular to India, Pakistan, Afghanistan. It's also common in the Middle Eastern and Eastern Balkan regions. I went to a mehndi night when I was in Turkey and it was very different than I expected. Yes, they sing and dance, like Asians do, but the songs were sad and everyone was crying, including the bride. I found it a little strange actually considering that it was a love marriage.

My friend told me that in the old days when people had arranged marriages and the bride was sometimes sent far away, she wouldn't get to see her family often. So the mehndi night was more about the bride bidding farewell to her family and it was a sad occasion. That tradition seems to have continued even though the bride might be moving just down the street and can see her family whenever she wants.

The dance that they performed was interesting though. The bride sat in the center of the room with her red outfit and face covered. Her friends, also wearing red outfits circled around her dancing, with candles in their hands. And there was a lady carrying the henna paste with a candle stuck in the center.

I guess the mehndi dance is different in different cultures.


I watch Indian films often and I've seen many mehndi events on screen including the dancing. It seems that Punjabis have the most fun with their mehndi dance, doing the bangra. Indians love dance in general, but for Punjabis, it's on a whole different level.


I don't think that there is a specific dance called "mehndi dance." I think it just refers to the mehndi ceremony and celebration that occurs before Southeast Asian weddings. The women folk gather, have mehndi applied, eat, sing and dance. But the dance varies from region to region and no one calls it the "mehndi dance." At least I've never heard it so. People just dance. Sometimes, grandmothers or artists may play basic traditional instruments and sing. Other times, the girls may just play some Bollywood music and dance to it.

So it's not so much about the rules but rather just having fun and it is not just specific to women. The groom has a small mehndi ceremony at his home too. He gets a basic mehndi design, not like the elaborate lace designs done for the bride. But music and dance accompanies the ceremony on the groom side too.

Southeast Asian weddings are fun. They are long, sometimes lasting up to a week, and there is a lot of eating, dancing and enjoyment. Exactly what a wedding should be like in my opinion.

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    • The mehndi dance is often celebrated in India when a bride's hands and feet are painted with elaborate henna designs.
      By: arfabita
      The mehndi dance is often celebrated in India when a bride's hands and feet are painted with elaborate henna designs.
    • Belly dancing is often included in mehndi dances.
      By: katrinaelena
      Belly dancing is often included in mehndi dances.