Henna, also known as mehendi or mehndi, is an important ritual for Indian wedding days. It is made from a tall, shrub-like plant that grows mainly in India, Sudan, Egypt, and Middle Eastern countries. To make the dye, the leaves of the plant are firstly ground into a powder and made into a paste with oils, water and lemon juice (to strengthen the dye). The paste is then applied to the hands and feet in intricate patterns which leave an orange stain. Over the period of a day, the orange dye darkens to a reddish-brown colour. Gradually the henna will fade over six weeks as the skin renews itself.
There is usually a small ceremony in which close female relatives and friends of the bride are invited. Originally, guests used to apply the henna to each other and the bride, but more recently professionals are hired to apply the henna.
The placing of the henna on the bride's hands and feet is meant to be auspicious. The henna is believed to symbolise the strength of the marriage and the amount of love she will receive. The darker the colour of the henna the stronger the marriage will be, and the greater the love she will receive. Often the bride will undergo a lot of different techniques to try and darken the colour of the henna, such as applying heat or oil.
Two of the traditional bridal drawings that are used in the henna design are the "doli" and the "baraat". The "doli" scene signifies the end of a wedding ceremony, where the bride goes away with her husband. The second is the "baraat" scene which signifies the procession of the groom before he arrives at the wedding venue. Some of the other common designs include flowers, conch-shells and peacock. Writing the groom's name on the bride's hand as well as images of the bride and groom are mandatory to the bridal henna design.