Tradition goes viral: The modern mehndi night


It may be a suburban home in Melbourne, but the bride was going through a highly traditional Indian ceremony, as full of colour and song as a Bollywood movie. 

With her wedding to be formalised in two days, she sits with extended family and friends for hours as henna is painted over her arms – secretly incorporating the initials of her fiancé. 

Guests crowd around to celebrate the bride-to-be, as she is adorned with henna

The soon-to-be bride sits, unable to move, fed by her mother-in-law. The room is draped in saris, and bright fairy lights colour the space.

Guests perch in every corner of the bride’s childhood home. Anagha has been sitting in the same position for three hours. The meticulous application of her bridal henna occurs and, like lace, it intricately wraps around her hands and feet.

“The mehndi night is a pre-wedding celebration to pamper the bride and adorn her with her henna,” Anagha says.

Watching on, it is as if the whole room centres around her. Young children crowd around while relatives perform songs in celebration.

Friends of the bride’s mother dance and laugh

The influence of social media and modern Indian culture is evident. The henna artist uses her iPhone to get inspiration from popular henna designs, while the bride poses for selfies with friends. Music is playing, people are eating and singing. Outside, guests begin to dance, while onlookers cheer and laugh.

Mehndi is traditionally an event for the women closest to the bride, but Anagha says everyone celebrates the day differently. “I have been influenced by Bollywood film and culture to make an event that is colourful and loud,” she says.

Lemon juice is applied to the henna to ensure it sets quickly

Anagha’s brother Shantanu explains what it was like planning such a traditional wedding in modern Australia.

“We had family flying in from overseas. There has been weeks of preparation,“ he says.

According to Shantanu, there has been a shift in the modern relevance of mehndi. “The night has become quite Westernised. It is a huge social media event, with everyone Snapchatting and posting on Instagram. I am sure that wasn’t part of the tradition!”

Anagha is crowded by guests as she explains that the letters of her fiancé’s name are hidden within the henna design. Young girls pry at her arms, searching.

She says she is not able to wash the bulk of the henna off until the morning. “It’ll be interesting sleeping with all this gunk tonight!” she says.

After four hours, the henna application is complete. In two days, Anagha will marry her fiancé in a traditional and at times comedic ceremony.