The Traditional Henna Night
The most popular henna tradition is the decoration of the bride- to-be on the ‘mehndi ki raat’ or ‘night of henna’.
The henna night, something like a hens night in the West, is performed across many cultures including Indian, Jewish, Turkish and Middle Eastern ( and more!). It is a calming, therapeutic time for the imminent bride who may have to be still for hours while her hands and feet are being painted and her female friends celebrate and pamper her.
Traditional henna songs may be sung and the women may tease the bride about her imminent encounter with her new husband or relate stories about their own marriage day and night. While the healing properties of the henna calm the bride’s nerves, the attention and camaraderie of the ritual also ease the anticipation of her new role in life.
The designs are also important and specific to each region. Organic, sensuous designs are most common and link symbolically with ideas of fertility, love and affection. In India the grooms name or initials may be incorporated into the design. There is a custom of the husband having to locate his name on the wedding night and if he cannot find them it is said the woman will hold the power in the family.
In Jewish tradition Loretta Roome writes about oseem hinne, ‘doing the henna’..
“A processional referred to as the zaffeh takes place, in which the henna is presented to the bride. Women emerge with trays of flowers, candles and henna on their heads and dance this way before the bride. The henna is then placed before the bride in powdered form. Water is added and the henna is kneaded into a paste. After more dancing and singing, members of the family and close friends approach the bride to kiss and to bless her while spreading some henna in her palms.”
(Loretta Roome, ‘Mehndi: The Timeless Art of Henna Painting’)