Down the Aisle: 100 years of bridal looks
A pictorial on changing bridal fashions in the last century.
The Big Fat Indian Wedding wasn’t always so. In years gone by—save wildly extravagant royal revelries—they were frugal affairs. Homes bedecked with strings of marigolds and fairy lights, home-made mithai and chanting of shlokas. Weddings today are bigger, louder and flashier and perhaps the only throwback to a simpler time is the Sanskrit mantras first uttered 35 centuries ago and the sacred fire. Destination dos, countless functions spread over days, cities and even countries are now par for the course but through all this the one constant has been the bride and groom. Of course bridal fashions too have changed dramatically over the century. The simple, woven saris have given way to designer togs and months of planning.
Still, regional variations continue to shine through the whirlwind, high glitz jamborees. Clothes, ornaments and adornments can differ widely; Rajasthani brides prefer lehengas, Punjabi brides wear salwar-kameez, Christian brides from Kerala and Goa look ethereal in wedding gowns while Maharashtrian brides are resplendent in nine-yard saris. Nowhere else in the world are brides adorned in such a rainbow array of vibrant colors from red, maroon and magenta to pink, gold, blue, green and saffron. While North and South Indian brides favor shades of red, green is considered auspicious in several states. Maharashtrians prefer green and yellow silk saris while Kashmiri and other Muslim beauties flaunt green and red heavily embroidered ghararas or shararas and heavy gold jewelry. Parsi and Christian newlyweds favor pristine white or ivory with delicate pearl and gold ornaments, and Bengalis look distinctive in their Banarasi saris and snow white topors. Traditional ornaments too hold special pride of place; necklaces, earrings, bangles, rings, nose-rings, anklets, toe-rings, armlets, maang teekas, hathphul and waistbands. Presenting a pictorial guide to wedding beauty fashions from the turn of the 20th century to the present day. From the genteel elegance of bygone days to today’s bling, band, baaja and baraat.
Check out some of the grandest, classiest royal weddings from the turn of the century
Princess Prem Kumari of Jaipur weds Yuvraj Jaideep Singhji of Devgadh Baria
Princess Prem Kumari, eldest daughter of Maharaja Sawai Man Singh of Jaipur married Yuvraj Jaideep Singhji of Devgadh Baria in 1946. The celebrations were larger than life; the book with instructions to the staff was two inches thick, filled with detailed instructions about all the parties, ceremonies and entertainment. The festivities lasted for two weeks!
Maharaja Raghubir Sinhji of Rajpipla weds Princess Rukmini Devi of Jaisalmer
This was the first Indian wedding to be covered by National Geographic magazine. It was held at the golden fort of Jaisalmer fort amidst lavish parties and processions, and a special train was pulled into service to transport the groom and members of the Rajpipla court to Jaisalmer.
Princess Chitrangada Scindia of Gwalior wed Yuvraj Vikramaditya Singh of Kashmir
Called the ‘Wedding of the decade’ by the New York Times, and considered the last of the grand royal weddings. Chitrangada, daughter of Madhavrao Scindia of Gwalior married Vikramaditya, son of Dr. Karan Singh of Jammu and Kashmir. The wedding was covered by the Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle and countless Indian magazines and newspapers.
A bride, circa 1946, adorned with a maang teeka, armlet and long gold chain
Lalitarni (in a gold sari) and Sudharani dressed in white, daughters of the royal family of Sir Bijay Chand Mahtab, Maharaja Bahadur of Burdwan. These portraits date back to 1927 when the younger sister, Sudharani was 16.
South Indian brides circa 1946. Note the intricate ornaments adorning the thick plaits.
Vintage Sikh bride with naath and pearl-gold jewelry (left) and traditional Muslim bride with an exquisite jhoomar in her hair
Actress Meena Kumari (left) epitomized the ideal of beauty for brides for decades, demure and yet smoldering. Vintage Bengali bride (right) hides her face behind betel leaves. The nath, (nose ring), paati haar (broad, flat necklace) , taaira (a combinmation of a tiara and maang teekaa) and bangles are a must.
A vintage Maharashtrian bride (left) in Paithani saree, traditional gold jewelry, nath and pearl forehead accessory. A traditional Muslim bride (right) in an herloom jora.
The love for family heirlooms is all pervading. Not only does the girl-next-door want to update her grandmother’s wedding sari but so, it seems do film stars like Kareena Kapoor. The actress had her mother-in-law Sharmila Tagore’s vintage bridal jora revived for her by Ritu Kumar.
The flowers on this south Indian bride’s braid are shaped like hearts!
The term Solah Shringar traditionally refers to the sixteen steps that form part of a girl’s regimen (as a bride) to look beautiful and ready to receive her beloved (groom)
Chura and bangles have remained an instrinsic part of North Indian weddings for centuries
Mehendi has remained an intrinsic part of all bridal getups in India
Telegu brides (left) like other traditional south Indian brides wear a kamar patta, vanki, heavy temple jewelry and flowers in the hair. Meanwhile Punjabi and north Indian brides veer to shades of red, kundan and gold jewelry, mehendi and red lips.
Today the booming bridal industry plays host to dozens of fashion shows with designers falling over themselves to showcase new lines. Whether you want to spend big bucks on designer wedding wear or prefer to go traditional and simple, there’s no doubt that every Indian bride—despite regional differences and preferences—looks stunning on her special day. While heavily embroidered lehengas, saris or salwar kameez complimented by traditional gold and diamond jewelry and choora all the way to their elbows decorated with kaleeray remain a North favorite, South Indian brides favor Kanjeevaram silks, heavy gold jewelry, kamar pattas and gajras in their hair. Either way, here comes the bride!