I was at a mendhi function yesterday. For those of you not familiar with South Asian culture, mendhi or henna night is one of the events in the wedding calendar which is followed by the wedding day ( nikah/rukhsati ) and the walimah ( post wedding celebration )

Purpose of the mendhi night is meant to be primarily for the bride to be and her close family members and friends to have gathering and celebrate her pending marriage. It involves various rasms (traditional acts/customs) that include applying mendhi patterns to her hands, arms and feet – if you so wish ( henna ), applying oil in their hair, giving salaami (money to the bride/groom – dont know what for to be honest! Aside from it being of some use to them in starting off their new life together. Anyone know the significance of it?), feeding mithai ( sweets ).

The grooms henna night doesn’t involve application of henna, but usually involves everything else. Which if you’re at, can be quite entertaining as most people love to tease and play pranks – usually through the aid of the oil, henna and mithai which is available and at the expense of the groom who ends up having henna in his hair, oil on his clothes and a mouthful of ladoo’s !

Most henna nights are a ladies only event. So there are rehearsed dances which look absolutely lovely. Especially when you’ve been attending the rehearsals for the past month! I had been. But was in no way going to dance infront of a hall packed with women! Dancing in the confines of a room, in a friends house is a tad different to a full on performance to hundreds of onlookers!

Everyone adorns themselves in bright colours; lime greens, sunset oranges, marigold yellows, baby pinks. And then you have the shiny, sequined black which also looks very nice.

The hall is elaborately decorated with swarms of fabric- white, yellow, orange, green- draped across the ceiling and down the huge pillars. Rows of flowers; pink carnations and orange/yellow marigolds, hang across the curtains and cascade down the pillars.

Henna plates are decorated with green and silver beads and stones. The plates hold the candles, which are lit and held as the girls walk alongside the bride when she enters the hall and goes to her seat. The same plates then are held to welcome the grooms side of the family to the henna night, often housing the confetti to sprinkle and throw, marking and celebrating their arrival.

Its the beginning of a chapter. The bride sits nervously on the stage, realising that its all finally happening and coming together. The months of preparations, stress, decorating, organising all come together in this magical spectacle display of colour, fun, laughter, girls excitingly chattering away, bangles tinkling, made up faces radiating, celebration….and sadness.

Many a time you notice a sadness in her eyes, masked behind a warm smile. You re-assure her you’re there with her and not to worry. You and everyone else saying the same thing. Returning that warm smile, gently nestling her face in your hands with the same sadness reflecting back at her.

What is that re-assurance about? Is it that her henna night is coming together without any glitches? or that she is getting married and will soon be someones wife, and all the expectations and role playing will come to her over time? That her mother is crying -part happiness that her daughter is setting up a home and a new life, part sadness she’s leaving her childhood home and there will be a huge part of the family missing- but we’ll console her?

Don’t worry. It’s ok. We’re all here for you..

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