Art in Bengal, is integral to the way of life. It is often said that weddings and festivals in Bengal turns to be an arty matter- a visual treat.
The attire of the brides of Bengal is believed to be one of the most regal and elegant. Hindu Bengali brides mostly wear vibrant red or a crimson Banarasi saree. Banarasi sarees (that are handmade in Varanasi, a city which is also called Benares or Banaras), are among the finest sarees in India and are known for their gold and silver brocade, fine silk and opulent embroidery. The uniquely woven ‘Banaras Brocades and Sarees’ has Geographical Indication (GI) which identifies it to be originating from that specific geographical region. Heavy gold wedding jewellery often comprise of a necklace, nose ring, earrings, tikka, anklets and more.
In the context of the brides of bengal, two colours are of particular significance- red and white. Red signifies the beginning of a new life, fertility and the flow of bloodline while white symbolise purity.
The following are some of the key wedding symbols* of the Brides of Bengal-
> Vermillion (or Sindoor in Bangla), is a brilliant red pigment, originally made of powdered
mineral cinnabar (mercury sulphide) and the corresponding colour. It is applied by Hindu
married women along the hair parting line to symbolise that they are married. Vermillion is
also applied as a big red dot (bindi) in the centre of her forehead.
>Alta- a red dye that is applied with cotton to the hands and feet during marriage ceremonies
> Three types of bangles- Shankha (a conch shell bangle), Pola (a red lac bangle) and Loha (an
iron bangle, worn only in left hand and is believed to ward off evil eyes).
> Red bordered white saree- As mentioned before, the colour white symbolise purity and red
symbolise fertility- hence the combination.
> Gach kouto and Kajal lata- On the day of wedding, a Bengali bride carry an ornate wooden container filled with vermillion with a coin in it, known as the ‘Gachh Kouto’. She also carries a ‘Kajal Lata’, an eye-shaped flat metallic container carrying Kohl paste.
> Head gear or crown (Mukut in bengali) is usually white and is made up from eco-friendly, delicate, elegant looking material made from wood plant or the Indian Cork tree.
> Turmeric paste- On the day of the wedding, turmeric paste is applied on the bride's face and
body. It is part of an elaborate series of celebrations constituting the Bengali wedding.
> Betel leaves- As a wedding ritual, the bride covers her face with two betel leaves and is carried by her brothers on a wooden plank to take seven rounds of the bridegroom before setting her eyes on him. This ritual is called Subho Drishti- literally meaning ‘auspicious sight’.
> Sandalwood paste face painting- the most unique feature of a Bengali bride is the artistically painted design of white and red dots on her forehead just above the eyebrows which extends to her cheeks and the chin.
Though, the intricate marriage rituals observed at Bengali wedding is a delightful story in itself, we shall constrict only to one of the very auspicious rituals that would remain incomplete without the Brides of Bengal- The Vermillion Smearing ritual and its social and cultural significance.
* This is far from complete but a succinct list of the key essentials.
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