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Indian Bride


Her solha shringar or sixteen adornments complete, an Indian bride is a vision of beauty. It is on her wedding day that all the skills and traditions of the past are drawn out and concentrated on the bride-to-be.

A bride-any bride, anywhere in the world-is an epitome of beauty. In India a young girl is not encouraged to ornament herself before her marriage. And after marriage her lifestyle demands that she focus her interest increasingly on the pragmatic rather than the aesthetic alone.

But her wedding day is the most momentous of all events. This one occasion makes everything else in her life-before or after-pale in comparison. Dr. Mulk Raj Anand and the late Krishna Nehru Hutheesing, in their, ‘The Book of Indian Beauty’ write,… “Somewhere in the dark chambers in heard the wailing chant of a young bride. She is beautiful or she is plain, but she has made the best of those gifts that life has bestowed on her through shringar, the rules of which have come down from generation of generation. She adorns herself because it is part of a ritual that almost every woman practices. It is all very new to her and, consequently, there is a certain self-consciousness in her attempt to adorn herself, a self-consciousness accentuated by her desire to shine.” In is on her wedding day that all the skills and traditions of the beauty rituals of the past are drawn out and concentrated on the bride-to-be. The ritual, being draped in a brocade sari.

Her limbs and face are creamed and scrubbed with a paste of oil, turmeric and gram flour and washed with oils. Her henna tinged hands and feet and her skin, says a poet, “is perfumed with the essence of flowers, till it is a mirror of purity, worthy of adornment and respect.

Jewellery has a religious significance among Hindus. It is a common belief that at least a speck of gold must be worn upon the person to ensure ceremonial purity. Ornaments of gold, studded with precious stones are designed specifically to fit and adorn a certain part of the body, the variety of each one being rather bewildering. While in most cases the patterns passed from one generation to another are almost unchanged, the craftsmen had no need to devise new forms yet a deviation did creep in. Each century, each invader, each ruler left indelible impressions.

The bride’s ‘Solah Shringar’ starts from the top. Her hair, after being washed and oiled, a braided into a weave of plaits or tied back at the nape of her neck in a bun with flowers and ornaments adorning it.

While in today’s cosmopolitan India, there has been a lot of sharing and borrowing of customs and traditions, yet the true adherents of tradition follow their individual rites.

While the Punjabi bride must wear a red parandi (a triple strand of red threads which are plaited with the hair and end in very decorative tassels); the Bengali and Maharashtrian brides will sport a bun decorated with white flowers. Further south, in Tamil Nadu, white, orange and pink blossoms are woven around the plait. In Kerala, the bride has a veil of jasmine buds-strands of flowers tied to form a net. The forehead of each bride is marked with a red bindi-the mark of the God and a sign of matrimony.

In addition, the bride’s forehead is embellished with the Suraj of sisphul-a large circular half ball worn by the Rajputs. The mangapatti-a gold ornament is worn along the hairline. Worn by both, the Maharashtrian bride and groom, is the mandoria-strands of pearls tied horizontally across the forehead and on either side of the face, vertical strands dangle to the chin.

The mang-tikki is worn by brides in most parts of the country, It is usually a simple round disc, about an inch across, set with precious stones and is attached to the parting of the hair by a chain. The nose ring, as it is called in English, is only seldom in the shape of a ring. In most places it is usually a small cluster or gems affixed by means of a screw to the nostril.

The biggest nose ring is worn by the Dogra brides. Almost three to four inches in diameter it has rubies and pearls strung on it. The gold wire is in a loop shape with encrustations of pearls, garnets and other beads for the Maharashtrian bride and worn on the left side. The nose stud is worn by the Gujaratis in the right nostril. In the south it is usually with a diamond setting mainly five stones forming a triangle and worn on both sides. The Bengali bride embellishes her face with dots and designs of chandan sandalwood paste) which go across the forehead and come down to her cheekbones. The Rajput bride might have three black dots on her chin to protect her from the Evil Eye.

For highlighting the eyes, Kajal made from the soot of diya (earthen lamp) lit with a wick placed in clarified butter is used. The smoke emitted is collected in an over-turned plate.

The ears are bedecked with the karn phul- a gold ornament with a star or radiated center of about an inch in diameter sometimes richly ornamented by precious stones and fixed to the lobe. Jhumka-a bell shaped ornament made of solid gold usually with a row of tiny beads along its edge, is the favorite among the Bengali, Punjabi, Maharashtrian and Rajput brides. A string a pearls is attached to it and taken behind the earlobe to support the weight of the heavy earring. The Tamilians give importance to the diamond-studded earring, a central stone encircled by smaller ones. Among the Kashmiris a jeroo is an essential part of the bride’s ensemble and duplicates as the mangalsutra. It consists of a long gold chain worn through a hole pierced in the upper ear lobe and having a dangling end of either gold or pearls.

The patan (literally meaning leaf) is used as a decorative from and worn in any part of the ear except the lobe. The Bengalis also wear the kaan balas-two half-moon shaped gold crescents dangling below the lobe.

The variety of necklaces is bewildering, and brides, especially the affluent, are seen wearing a series of them of differing lengths. There is the collar of gold beads called the paiti by the Maharashtrian, and the parunia ke gulsari- string of pearls; the hansli a choker of gold pieces. The Punjabis have the rani haar, handed down from mother-in-law to daughter-in-low and consists of pieces of gold attached with a series of chains. The Maharashtrian also wear the tanmani, three or four strings of pearls with a central pendant, or the typical path where seven or eight strings of pearls are attached to a central green bead. The Tamilians have their changali in gold but what is imperative is the mangalsutra of two inverted ‘U’ shaped gold pieces called tail with four gold beads strung on a yellow thread. Similarly the Maharashtrians have two cup-like pieces in gold. Traditionally, they were strung on a yellow thread by a vaishya (prostitute) as, never being married, she could not become a widow either, which were the blessings to the passed to the bride. Among the Andhraites and Keralites is the kashmira a long necklace made of gold sovereigns held together by chains. Of course, floral garlands of mogras, rajnigandhas, roses, and marigolds are also worn by the brides.

The bangle or bracelet is the most significant of ornaments for bangles are above all, the visible sign of marriage. While young girls may wear bangles of various kinds before their marriage, the first act of widowhood is to discard them, (see article The Warm Ring of Bangles, Discover India April’91)

The north Indian brides have, among the Punjabis and Dogras, the chura made of a set of white ivory bangles with red ones at either end. On a thin iron bangle in the front are tied a bunch of kaliras-danglers of thin silver or gold. They are ties by friends and relatives as a blessing to the bride. Also common is coconut and some dried fruits and shells tied together by the red sacred thread. These are usually given by the maternal uncles. Te significance of these dates back to the olden times when the bride leaving for her husband’s home (a journey which could take several days) could feed off the dried fruits in case she felt hungry. The conch has tremendous religious importance among the Bengalis and it is natural that bangles made from the shells are used for the bride. The white, or sometimes red-colored shank has adorn her wrist. The Rajput bride wears the ichura- a series of plain, ivory bangles starting from the smallest at the wrist and progressively growing larger till the shoulders, covering the entire arm. The ivory chudo is also worn by the Gujaratis and in addition are the green and red glass bangles or bangri. Green glass is again the colour for the Andhra and Maharashtrian brides. Of course gold bangles also add to the profusely adorned wrists in all parts of India, either as the thin churi or its broader, flatter version or the thick kara with either the elephant or lion heads.

Further up the arm is the bazubandh or armlet-a precious stone-adorned semi-circular trinket with skeins at both ends to tie them in place with.

The palms are covered with an intricate design of mehandi and in the north especially, the application of henna is a special ceremony. Traditionally, the application of henna is a special ceremony. Traditionally, it was believed that the stronger or darker the color of the mehandi design, the more the bride’s mother-in-law would love her.

Rings, usually of gold, her worn more as a decorative item. There is also the fashion of the arsi or thumb-ring with a mirrored front for the bride to look at herself. In some cases, the mirror opens to reveal a small box in which perfume can be kept. Another popular combination in the north is the haath phool. It consists of five rings in all the fingers, joined to a bangle at the wrist with chains from each ring radiating to a medallion encrusted with stones in the center of the hand, with chains again joining the medallion to the bangle.

To keep the sari in place as well as accentuate the bride’s slim waist a belt of gold or silver is used. While the Punjabis call it taragi the Tamilians used the odianmam to hold their nine-yard sari in place.

The feet are also given as much importance as the rest of the body. The Bengalis color theirs red with alta drawing a thick line along the outer border of the foot and applying a dot above the arch. Anklets are either in the form of simple chains of paizeb heavy thick rings of silver set with a fringe of small spherical bells which tinkle at every movement of the limb. Appropriately, the Gujaratis call them jhanjhar or payals. And finally, the toes are adorned with the anwat a ring furnished with little bells. Or the bichua, rings worn around the toes, and traditionally attached along each side of the foot, to the paizeb at the ankle. Among the Maharashtrians it is an elaborate toe-ring with a parrot, peacock or fish design. In Andhra, the popular design is the ambi of paisley. It is put on to the bride’s toes during the ceremony with he groom getting her to place her foot on the grinding stone. The Tamil bride may adorn one or more of her toes with the matti or a simple multi-coiled silver ring, which is presented by her material uncle, symbolizing eternity.

The richly woven gold and red brocade sari which is considered one of the most graceful dresses in the world led poets to write, “it veils the body but does not misrepresent it”. The wedding ensemble could be the green nine yard paithan of the Maharashtrians, the maroon and gold-bordered koorap-podavi of the Tamilians; the raunak gold and white one of the Sindhis and a similar one of the Keralites or the white with red border sanetar of the Gujarati. Again, the rich, Benarasi red and gold ones of the Bengalis and Punjabis or the kurti, Kanchli, ghagra and odhni of the Rajput brides and the churidar-kamiz and odhni of the Dogras. All these adornments symbolize the day, the most important one in the life of a woman when she goes to her husband in shyness and modesty.