Trading Saris For Gowns: The Westernization of the Modern South Asian Bride

 

Picture this: bold rich vibrant colors, the sound of drums and music resonating in the background and a bevy of people dressed in intricate detailed designer originals only to be outshined by a woman draped in the most elaborately decorated attire from head to toe, delicately adorned with well-placed shimmers and fancies. Once all together these extraordinary elements are the center stage for a traditional South Asian wedding.

Now, I think it’s safe to say that a wedding in any culture is a pretty big deal, but South Asians take it to another level—ask me how I know… I am a Bengali woman. Our weddings can last more than a week with a different event being held, ranging from religious purposes or just for celebrations’ sake.

As a guest, please ask your hostess how many events they are planning and the appropriate attire must be part of your planning; with a different outfit for each event. We are certain this all seems a bit overwhelming—rather tedious, physically and financially draining—but we do believe in tradition!

What is interesting now is this new generation of American born desi’s (term for the people from the Indian subcontinent or South Asia and their diaspora) who are coming into fruition; with them sometimes the term “traditional” gets thrown out the window and the idea of being the most modern, chic and westernized desi bride becomes the new trend for South Asian brides-to-be.

There’s nothing wrong in wanting to be contemporary, in fact I embrace progression in our society, but is it really necessary for us South Asian woman to be throwing centuries of effervescent culture down the drain, simply to fit into the mold of a standard American wedding. I’m thinking NO!

Well, you can only imagine my shock when I attended a wedding this past weekend featuring my father’s, brothers, roommates daughter (I know, and that’s another thing about us brown people we literally invite everyone we ever met in our life to our child’s wedding.) but I digress. I can honestly say that theirs was not your typical South Asian wedding.

To begin, the bride came down an actual aisle with a white lace sleeved wedding dress and exchanged actual vows. Now for someone like me who’s only seen these type of weddings on television and in movies it was definitely an experience.

As a woman that practices the Islamic faith, in my culture the groom is not even allowed to see the bride face to face. Instead in a traditional setting the bride and groom are put into separate rooms. There is an Imam (priest) present and two witnesses; One from the bride’s side and the other from the groom’s. The Imam first goes to the groom and ask if he agrees to marry his bride and if he says yes the Imam then goes to the bride’s side and see if she agrees as well. When both the bride and groom agree they are allowed to see each other for the first time in an official capacity as bride and groom.

Granted in the wedding I attended the groom was Caucasian and they selected Americanized wedding traditions. I did, however, love the beautiful mix of traditions providing the bride the opportunity during the reception to change into our traditional Indian dress and accessories.

While this is merely one example of the changing trends, it is clear that our Indian weddings are becoming less “Mehndi lagaake rakhna” and more “Here comes the bride.”

Our culture is so enriched and steeped in memorable, extravagant original customs and family traditions, so it is sometimes difficult to comprehend why one would want to substitute this rich ancient history for anything else. Sometimes I cannot help but wonder whatever happened to the bride coming in on a palanquin and the bridesmaids teasing the groom into giving them money before he saw his bride; to covering the bride’s face in turmeric and blessing her well before the wedding; to the lively bhangra music being blasted through the party halls making every man, woman, child and conservative uncle lose their mind on the dance floor, are we all suppose to give way to the dance list of the top 40 hits?

 

I guess my main point here is that I believe we as desi’s should remember our history and embrace our culture to the fullest during important family events like our weddings when we are joining our families and heritages together. Our weddings have meaning for every movement, color, sound and fabric and is part of the fabric of our culture that must be cherished and celebrated.

We do wonder what do you think about traditional South Asian customs versus the modern day westernized nuptials?

However, whichever tradition you choose let this very special day be memorable, loving and filled with laughter, at least through your 50th Anniversary Celebration.

Faihaa Khan
Hello all I am Faihaa Khan, a student at St. John’s University on route to getting my bachelor of arts degree in English. Growing up in New York I’ve always had an interest in fashion and being raised by a father who used to write science fiction novels, I also had an interest in writing. Put the two together and that pretty much sums up my life in a nutshell in both a professional and personal setting.
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