Mehndi songs are a longstanding aspect of Indian, Pakistani, and some Arabic wedding traditions. The bridal songs are traditionally played during a pre-wedding mehndi ceremony, which is a festive and decorative occasion that centers around applying decorative tattoos. Music is generally played for fun, to wish the couple good luck, or as a symbol of the wedded relationship. Specialty songs may be selected from movies or albums. They are also sometimes sung by ceremony guests.
In mehndi ceremonies, the bride and her bridal party decorate each other with temporary decorative tattoos called mehndi. Applying mehndi with a painting device or a cone is commonplace, and the tattoo is most often placed on the face, the hands, or the feet. These artistic features are prized because they symbolize the sun and an individual’s inner light. They also add to the elegance of the bride, and her attire is often considered incomplete without them. Mehndi songs also provide an outlet for expressing these symbolic and aesthetic beliefs.
As part of the ceremony tradition, mehndi songs usually play in an intimate setting like the bride’s house or at a banquet hall. Both the bride and the groom can be present at this ceremony. In addition to the mehndi application, the event often takes on a party-like atmosphere, with dancing accompanying the mehndi songs. Singing contests will also routinely occur with the bride's party and the groom's party as competitive participants.
The playing of mehndi songs is intended to make the ceremony a festive and fun experience, but the songs are also sometimes meant to symbolize a change in the relationship between the bride and the groom. The ceremony itself represents the bride's transformation from virginal girl to woman and wife. As such, in ceremonies where both the bride and the groom are present, the songs may take on a teasing quality.
Different cultures may have slight differences in the ceremony and the song-play. In some cases, two separate mehndi ceremonies — one for the bride and one for the groom — will be held a few days before the wedding. Varying elements sometimes accompany the song-and-dance tradition as well, such as applying oil to the heads of the bride and groom or bringing them sweet treats. In any event, the components are intended as a good luck omen for the future newlyweds.
Due to their prominence in the mehndi ceremonies, compilations of mehndi songs are a highly sought-after commodity. Some of these songs may originate in the popular Indian film industry known as Bollywood. Specialty collections may also be offered in album form. Many such songs have mehndi in the title, and examples include Mehndi Wali Raat, Mehndi Laga ke Rahkna, and Mehndi Lagaoongi Mein.