A calendar is now pretty redundant in most home—like wall clocks and desk diaries—but time was when they were treasured, sometimes long after that year was over. One such calendar still remains etched in my mind: Air India’s Brides of India. Not only were the brides beautifully photographed, their traditional shringar (adornments) showcased the sheer diversity of India from Kashmir to Tamil Nadu.
I always felt there should have been a sequel focussing on bridegrooms of India but men as calendar subjects were as rare back then as they are now. There is no doubt, however, that even men from all regions of India have also had their own characteristic Indian wedding-wear—adding to the multi-billion rupee clothing genre that comes into its own as the marriage season kicks off after Diwali.
Sadly, the commercialisation of wedding wear, complemented by the trendsetting imagery of Bollywood, has led to a creeping homogenisation of “The Look” among the uppermiddle and upper classes. Today brides (and grooms) are less known by their regions than their designers. Girls want to be Sabyasachi or Manish Malhotra brides rather than, say, Bengali, Marathi or Tamil ones.
Designers and their clientele miss out on a great opportunity for creativity by opting for a standard look when it comes to the outfits, jewellery and makeup. In most such ensembles there is little room for regional variations, though Punjabi brides can add choodas and kaliras to their wrists and Maharashtrians their naths. But the overall look is hard to ascribe to a particular region.
This is one aspect of homogenisation of culture that has got less than its deserved share of opprobrium. Modern weddings should actually be a wonderful occasion to showcase our diversity rather than suppress it for an amorphous ‘designer’ look. A Tamil bride and her Marathi groom in their regional finery would make for an eloquent statement of the gradual melding together of India.
Over 20 years ago, I correctly identified an Odia royal amid the fineries of a typical Rajput wedding in Udaipur because the ‘borla’ and jewellery she wore had that typical eastern filigree work though she was clad in the traditional Rajput ‘poshak’. Today I am not sure such diversity would be evident, especially as most Indian royals appear to be adopting a uniform Rajasthani look!
The saree in all her manifestions—from the nine-yard Tamil Brahmin and Maharashtrian rain kashta ones, to the regular six-yard ones from Gujarati Panetar and Gharchola to Odisha’s boula patta—has been the loser in this homogenisation trend. Indeed, the bridal sarees of India could have been a pretty awesome choice for an Air India calendar, given their diversity of design and colour!
The saree’s fall can be seen most perhaps in Christian weddings in India. Traditionally there was no single ‘look’—Kerala Christian brides looked different from Mangalorean or Goan ones, not to mention Anglo-Indian or East-Indian. But now, like the typical traditional Indian Christian Christmas feasts are becoming ‘internationalised’ to the detriment of local dishes, so is the bride’s look.
It was a Goan friend who first told me that brides in his community of ‘Brahmin Christians’ never wore white dresses—it was always sarees. In some cases even the tying of mangalsutras have been integral parts and parcel of Indian Christian wedding ceremonies. Now white bridal gowns, veils and flower tiaras are replacing sarees in India’s churches as much as designer lehngas are elsewhere.
Thanks to Bollywood, regional variations sometimes become trendy, such as Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s Bengali red-bordered saree after Devdas—and the collar-like jewellery in Jodha-Akbar that has now become allpervasive. Deepika Padukone’s ghaghra in Padmavat got some traction but Priyanka Chopra’s nauvari in Bajirao Mastani was overshadowed by Deepika’s lehenga in the same film.
But in 2018 on-screen looks have paled before Anushka Sharma’s real-life pastel lehenga adorned with flowers and those signature Sabyasachi double dupattas. It inspired a million knock-offs in the weddings that have followed their December 2017 nuptials. Had Anushka not worn sarees for her receptions in Delhi and Mumbai, this traditional drape may not have recovered from the blow!
Her man Virat Kohli sparked no trend at all as he looked just like what all-too-many grooms do these days, clad in an embroidered sherwani and churidar though his socks were an aberration. Indian grooms also have a wide variety of traditional attire to choose from but sadly the unstitched uncertainty of most of them make our pusillanimous men go for tied churidars or safely belted trouser suits.
Two mega weddings are coming up— both cross cultural. It is too much to expect Deepika Padukone, Priyanka Chopra (and especially Ranveer Singh and Nick Jonas!) to stick to traditional wedding wear from their regions. But while Bollywood wedding trends are beguiling, it is time for those who have the wherewithal to also think about preserving this important aspect of our diverse composite culture.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.