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The Prophet Muhammed dyed his beard red using henna and his Caliphs adopted this practice. Fatima, Muhammed’s daughter, adorned her hands in mehndi. Khamsa, also the Arabic number 5, refers to the protective image of Fatima’s hand with patterns on it, often worn as a talisman. The use of henna and mehndi by the Prophet insured its place in history and its popularity and acceptance among the Muslim people. Henna rituals flourished in the bathhouses or hamam, a public bath that harem women would attend once a week. Visits to the hamam could last all day, this was a place where women could socialise and speak freely. Women would dye their hair with henna, thread away body hair, apply mehndi and perfumes. In the hamam, when the henna paste was removed it was viewed as an ablution, believed to purify and rid the person of evil.
The mehndi ceremony in Hindu weddings is known as the Mehndi Rat. The bride will have a party in which she is surrounded by all her female friends and relatives and is decorated in elaborate patterns by a relative or a professional mehndi artist. The patterns used for Hindu weddings are some of the most beautifully executed patterns anywhere. They are elaborate floral patterns covering the skin like lace. During the Mehndi Rat, the bride will be ushered into her new life as a woman. She will learn the secrets of how to be a good wife, how to please her husband and what he will expect from her. The more elaborate and detailed the patterns, the better wife the bride is thought to be. Intricate patterns take longer so the bride is thought to have had a greater opportunity to be enlightened on matters of love. Guests will receive mehndi, though these patterns will not be as ornate as the brides so as not to compete with her beauty. Traditionally the grooms initials or the couples names are hidden in the patterns. The groom must search for the initials on the wedding night, if he can't find his initials he is expected to give a gift to his new bride! This encourages the couples to be closer on their wedding night - especially as in Indian traditions, this will be the first day they have met or spent time alone together.
The depth of colour that is achieved on the bride's hands and feet is thought to be indicative of the depth of love and devotion the couple will enjoy - some say that the bride is not expected to perform any housework until her wedding Mehendi has faded. It also suggests as the age old saying goes: 'The darker the Mehndi, the more your mother-in-law will love you!'