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Pakistani Weddings: The Mehndi

This is a continuation of my series of posts on Pakistani weddings. Check out Courtship and Marriage in Pakistan and The Dholki and Mayoon for the first two parts!

Ah, the beautiful night of Mehndi. Colors, clothes, rasms, all blend to make this easily the most cultural night at Pakistani marriages. It is usually held a day or two before the actual wedding and this being the first time the groom and bride’s sides of the family see each other, all about competition!

The term Mehndi itself is the Urdu/Hindi word for Henna, and the event itself is sometimes called Rasm-e-Henna. Traditionally the Mehndi was held separately for the bride and the groom, however in more recent times, the couples’ families will hold a joint function for all the guests of the weddings.

The Mehndi is also usually the first time the extended families of the bride and groom will get to see each other. It’s really quite interesting to see utter strangers on the Mehndi turn into family by the end of the third day and as you may see, the different rasms (customs) help promote this interaction in a traditionally closed society.

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Henna (Mehndi) on a Pakistani Bride

The term Mehndi comes from the intricate henna tattoos Pakistani and Indian women draw on their hands for celebrations. While henna is not restricted to weddings (It's also done for Eids and other happy occasions), those done for the bride in weddings are decidedly special.

Men at a Pakistani Mehndi Ceremony

The joint event will usually take place in a wedding hall or a specially made tent. The recent trend is for families to announce color and clothes themes for each of the wedding functions. This time around, it was 'kurta shalwaars' with red 'dupattas' draped across the neck. Dupattas are usually a female garment and celebratory events (and technically JUST weddings) are the only times you'll see them worn by men. As you will see later, they help in dancing!

Musician at a Pakistani Wedding

Music is a central aspect of Mehndis and live music will sometimes be provided for guests. The 'tabla' pictured here is a traditional percussion instrument, similar the 'dhol' seen earlier. With several tablas in front of them, each of them producing different notes depending on where they are hit, tablas require considerable skill to play!

Flowers at the entrance of a Mehndi hall

The bride's guests will usually arrive at the venue first, and make preparations for the groom. Since the concept at South Asian weddings is "The groom's side comes to take the bride away", before the Walima, all the events are held as if hosted by the bride's.

The Mehendi stage

Yellow is the predominant color at the Mehndi, and yellow flowers and drapes are usually used to adorn the stage on which the bride and groom will be 'displayed'; and where bored photographers will choose to go all Shakespearean and dramatic : P

Groom's arrival at a Mehndi

At the predetermined time (+30min, since when is anything in Pakistan on time ;P) the groom's side will arrive together in a procession, bearing gifts of flowers, sweets, bangles and trays of henna with candles.

Mehndi Reception

The brides' side's reception is equally warm! Close relatives will stand at the gate to welcome the groom's family with flowers and smiles : )

Throwing flowers at a Mehndi reception

Flower petals are thrown at the groom's guests as they enter, and flower necklaces are given to the close family. Understandably, this is a very traumatic experience as the next 15min are spent picking out petals from hair and clothes ;P Why do we still do this again?

Mehndi gifts

All the gifts, from both the bride's and groom's sides are placed in front of the stage, to display to everyone present. Colorful isn't it? Careful though! Can anyone say fire hazard? *nods*

Groom's Entrance at a Mehndi

The groom is usually brought in with his entourage holding a decorative 'dupatta' over him.

Arrival of the Bride at a Mehndi

The bride's entrance can also be done with a dupatta over her, or as in this case, she can be carried in a special 'flower cage' called a 'doli'.

Bride and Groom at a Mehndi

The bride and groom will be displayed to everybody on the stage as they take their seats, where they will remain for the entirety of the function. Even dinner will be served to them there. The bride normally wears a green dress (with occasional hues of yellow and orange). This is also the first time the bride will wear anything but yellow since the Mayoon. Make-up is kept at a minimum.

The song competition at Mehndis

Another rasm (custom) at mehndis is the singing competition between the bride and groom's sides. Bringing in their practice from dholkis, women from both sides will sit on front of the couple and compete with songs which are usually themed at light humor towards each others' sides. In more 'competitive' weddings this can get quite heated! Cutting each other off, making noise while the other side sings, it's all fair game! Men will usually not take part except to make noise or distract the other side (might be cheating, but hey, everybody has fun!).

Mehndi Rasms - Mehndi on Hand

This is also when the main rasms for the Mehndi begin. A leaf is placed on the bride's hand (to protect her henna) and family members front he groom's side will ceremonially place small amounts of henna on her hand one-by-one.

Mehndi Rasms - Sweets

Each one will then give a small amount of mithai to the bride to eat. A bite is usually enough though, consuming large amounts of Pakistani sweets is decidedly difficult!

Mehndi Rasms - Money

The final part of the rasm is the giving of money. It's not so much the concept of giving, but rather how its given that's special. The money is revolved around the bride's head a few times before placing it into a basket in front of her, a practice I jokingly refer to as "enticing greed". Greed however is not the objective as the amounts given are usually symbolic ;P

Mehndi Rasms - Sweets

Pakistani sweets, called mithai, come in scores of different shapes and sizes. All filled with sugar and oil, these delightful treats, despite increasing diabetic risk, are the BEST reason to get married!

Mehndi Rasms on Groom

Henna - Mithai - Money. The entire process is then repeated with the groom. Since this can be time-consuming, usually, no more than half a dozen or so women from either side will perform the rasm.

Dancing at a Mehndi

Another relatively newer concept at Pakistani weddings is the dancing. Synchronized dancing. Popular desi dance tracks are usually played and guys from both the bride and groom's sides will perform numbers that they've practiced at dholkis.

Bhangra at a Mehndi

The dance itself is called 'bhangra' and is a highly energetic form of dancing with roots in the Punjab provinces of Pakistan and India. While there are no set 'moves' in bhangra (Pakistanis sometimes jokingly refer to common steps as 'screwing the lightbulb' or 'patting the dog'), it's all about moving in rhythm with the beat!

Bhangra at a Mehndi

The Bhangra eventually devolves into a free-for-all and, depending on the conservativeness of the families, women will sometimes join in too (though their form of dancing is much more elegant than the energetic 'male' bhangra).

Bhangra at a Mehndi, Groom joins in!

Theres no rule that the groom can't have fun too. And if he choses to (or if his friends force him to!), he will join in! The bride too, though this is rarer.

Sangeet at a Mehndi

And finally, a third form of entertainment is called the sangeet. Family from both sides will come to the mic in front and sing ghazals (slow, soulful Pakistani music) backed by the tabla and accordion. Don't try this if you're not experienced, you need an exceptionally good voice!

Food will also, usually be served at a Mehndi (not pictured! I was hungry, so I ate instead of shot :P ). The function will end as people start to trickle out. There is no set farewell here as there is with the Rukhsati in the Shaadi (next post!). That said, the hall is usually not the end of the night! Close family will return to the respective homes of the bride or groom to have a final night of fun and debauchery before the BIG day! (ok well maybe not debauchery… but a lot of FUN!).

Next up: The Shaadi!

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  • Chiara

    Fabulous text and pictures! and I finally get to comment! :)

    Might add more when the joy wears off a little. Meanwhile–check your email please. Thanks :)

  • Courtship and Marriage in Pakistan | NidalM Photography

    [...] them up here I post them: The Dholki and the Mayoon The Mehendi The Shaadi The [...]

  • Full Circle Eventi

    Fantastic Series!! I'm a wedding planner and designer specializing in South Asian and Chaldean Weddings, as well as Multi-Cultural Weddings. I love the beauty of Mehndi and how it transcends cultural backgrounds because it is embraced in wedding ritual for many ethnic traditions.
    I would love to feature your blog series on our site and have you featured as a guest blogger if you would be interested. And I am looking to feature you in my Cultural Celebrations series this Tuesday on my blog.
    Beautiful work – wish you were in the states!

  • NidalM

    And thank you so much for stopping by and the kind words!

    I'd love to be featured in Cultural Celebrations and do some guest blogging as well! Sounds like good fun (and lets face it, I like it when people read what I ramble on about ;P)! Let me know what you need from me!

    I still have another article or two to put up in the series, will try to put them up by Tuesday so the whole series is accessible :)

  • NidalM

    And I'm afraid you did miss me by a year. I was based in Michigan until January of last year :(

  • Qusay

    This post kinda came and went, it showed up in my google reader, but when I clicked on it it would give me an error, now that I followed your new .in domain name, I found it up and working :)

    Great damsel in distress pic of u :P and the laddo and all the traditional sweets. In Saudi(Jeddah/Makkah/Medinah areas) mehendi in known as henna and a similar night (not as lavish or festive of course) goes on… and the sweets (the same laddo, and some labaneyah (made from milk) and the other brown one) are there, the green one I do not know about. Of course along with the chocolates, but I'm old fashioned and go for the traditional sweets every time.

    I repeat what I said before… u r calling upon the forces of marriage to come upon you, and they will cost you and arm and a lens… I mean a leg :)

  • Photos of Pakistani Weddings: The Shaadi | NidalM Photography

    [...] Previous posts (for relevance, in case you missed them!) Courtship and Marriage in Pakistan The Dholki and the Mayoon The Mehendi [...]

  • NidalM

    Yeah, I did have some issues with WordPress a few days ago and it messed with the displaying of my posts. Got it all sorted no I guess :D And I'm really proud of my .in doman name now I can have an email address, How cool is that?!

    Its actually surprising to hear that you have henna nights in Saudi as well. I wonder if this is common to all cities or something prominent mostly in Jeddah, since there are a lot of influences from outside cultures there!

    The forces of marriage will come sooner or later right? Might as well taunt them for now : P

  • Giftxperts

    Really nice wedding i love it

  • Sally Holiday

    Lovin your blog and the pictures! The Pakistani Wedding pics are lovely and so is the explanation :) Superfab job!!

  • Anonymous

    Thank you Sally :)

  • nidal

    good photography …

  • Mehendi Entrance Songs for Him and Her | All things Karachi Weddings
  • Mehendi Entrance Songs for Him & Her | All things Karachi Weddings
  • henna
  • Dadie Host

    Even the most skeptical readers will come away from your work NidalM,
    feeling less gloomy…there’s a significant idea embedded within…a range
    of possible goals we may achieve if we have the imagination and the