Mehendi (henna) is more of an Indian tradition than Nepali. I am sure you could check several other gori blogs to find pictures of amazing intricate henna up and down the arms and legs of soon-to-be pardesi brides. However I think there is a growing trend for Nepali brides to take up this Indian tradition, due to the cultural influences of Bollywood, and let’s be honest… mehendi is beautiful and fun.
When I was a student in Jaipur a friend and I ventured to the “pink city” to have henna applied before a special dinner program where we girls dressed up in saris for the first time. This was also the first time I ever had mehendi “officially” applied.
The next time I had the chance was in Nepal for my friend R’s wedding (more pictures HERE). P’s mom seemed so confused why we would want to do this. She kept shaking her head saying, “This is not our tradition. Why is she doing?” I came back with my hands all designed and ready to go.
The third time was for my friend AS’s wedding. In lieu of a “bachelorette” party, we invited female friends over to eat, dance, rub turmeric and sandalwood paste on AS’s face and arms, and to apply henna on each other’s hands. I just applied it on my palms so that while I was at work the henna wasn’t as noticeable, but it was still fun!
So after two weddings worth of henna, R and AS thought it would be fun to organize a mehendi party for me, and invited friends over on Sunday for some food, wine, and henna paste. I guess traditionally it would be a “women’s only” event, but we had the guys over too, and they were able to amuse themselves during our henna making with a different Nepali tradition—card playing (although a Bulgarian friend was the eventual winner!)
R and AS decorated R’s apartment with saris and dupattas to give it a “Bollywoody” feel, and many of us dressed in colorful kurtas. R’s brother-in-law’s new fiancé was designated as the mehendi artist for me, while AS and other’s took up the henna cones to design each other’s hands.
It was fun—and R’s soon-to-be sister-in-law hid a small P on one of my palms to see if P could find it within 60 seconds. The bet was that if he found it I would have to get up and dance for the whole group to the song “Shelia ki Jawani” which of course I wound up having to do, but at least he joined me halfway through the song!
It’s funny having henna on my hands in the US, because there are those who know about P and the region of the world he is from, and kind of “expect this kind of thing” from me. Yet then there are others—like the custodian in my office who came in the other day to collect the trash and noticed my palms when I handed him the garbage can and exclaimed, “What on earth did you do to your hands?!” and continued to look at me funny while I explained. My sister, who works as a bank teller, said that her co-workers asked if she was bored over the weekend and wrote on herself with brown marker. I’m sure for some people it just looks weird.
But I still like it. The reason we did the mehendi early is because my mother already warned me (she falls into the category of “expecting this kind of thing” out of me) that I was not allowed to have “anything on my hands that will ruin the white wedding photos.” (She was even concerned about the sindor before I was able to convince her that it can be easily washed off in time.) However being the rebel that I am, I kind of want to find someone to do henna on my feet for the wedding, kind of like a secret, since at least for the white wedding my feet will be covered. I’m sure I can find one of my Indian students who might be interested, although P’s mother again will probably be perplexed, “Why do this, it is not our Nepali culture?” Hmmmm… We will see.
Photos from the event: