The age of extravagance
No matter what her views on marriage are, every woman dreams of the perfect wedding. A wedding represents the culmination of the ultimate romantic fantasy; the stepping stone to that 'happily ever after' scenario. Over the years, the wedding ceremonies (yes, that's a plural!) have evolved so that today, it's more than just the celebration of the joining of two spirits. It's a huge event, spanning over several days, that has to be meticulously planned. Let's look at some of the ways the urban wedding has changed in the last ten years.
Till the mid 90's, shopping for this was a relatively simple affair. Then came cable TV, and exposed us to the glitter and glamour of the outside world, and flying off to India or Bangkok on a shopping spree for the weddings became in vogue for those who could afford it. The resent mushrooming of special stores, boutiques and shopping malls, many of them of international standard, however, has allowed many to save on the plane trips and get all the shopping done right here in Dhaka. So you can skip the queue for visa and the harrowing flights and get all your shopping done here. In recent years, Dhaka has seen a few Wedding Festivals whereby any commercial venture that has anything to do with weddings from matchmakers to photographers to banks offering special wedding loans all come under one roof to showcase their services. They're a big eye-opener to the fact that weddings these days mean big business!
There are plenty of outlets that bring out a complete bridal wear line every year. From saris to lahengas, to clothes for the holud, the engagement, and the walima, you name it, they've got it. The previously ignored arena of men's fashion is also heating up, be it the traditional panjabi/sherwani ensembles or suits and tuxedos. Today's designers are experimenting with new looks, new cuts, and new colours, so that you don't see so much of the traditional red Benarasi clad brides and pagri-touting grooms. Today's couples are colour co-ordinated, bold and beautiful.
Another interesting development in the shopping scene is the trend for small outlets offering personalised accessories. From couture blouses to customised shoe-and-handbag sets to Benarasi bedding accessories to designer wedding daalas, these energetic entrepreneurs have woken up to the endless demand for something new and unique, and are really dishing it out.
If we look at weddings ten years from now, we find that the venue had already shifted from the home of the bride or one of her relatives, to hotels and community centres. That tradition is still being upheld today, but they're no longer the only option. People are getting creative, and now clubs, restaurants and just about any large space ends up getting booked for the big events. The community centres have also polished up their act; many now sport their own in-house decorators and catering services.
Picking out the venue is only half the story. Getting it ready for the big event is another ball game altogether. This is where the decorators come in. The concept of set design has been around for a while, and more people are getting savvy about it. Today's venues are works of art, with lights, drapes, flowers, you name it, and the glorious couple receiving the well-wishers, seated in fairytale bowers and gazebos. No more cloth-covered pandels and coloured lights the size of grapes!
Once the nitty-gritty is sorted out, the big headache of preparing the event(s) begins. The Bangladeshi Muslim wedding has traditionally had four ceremonies: the two holuds, the akht/biye, and the walima. This pretty much holds true for weddings at present, but there are variations. In some cases, the bride has a mehendi ceremony instead of the holud, and then there's the joint holud, where both the bride and groom get the turmeric-smearing formalities over with at one go.
Entertainment at weddings has also changed dramatically. The parodies and skits of old have given way to professional bands and of course, the choreographed performances put on by the young members of either party, participated with gusto by pretty much everyone. These usually take place during the holuds. Occasionally, you may find some creative variations to the normal scenario. Everything from quawali sessions to fire spinning, to hijra performances to rong-khela can be part of the wedding festivities. The most memorable holud we've seen to is definitely this one day-event that took the shape of a country mela during the day, complete with pitha and phucka stalls, dramas, skits and portrait painting sessions, and games like tug-of-war between the two parties. The event ended in the wee hours of the night, after an unplugged concert, followed by a disco arranged in the bride's house. It's amazing what a little creativity and the right resources can produce.
An exercise in extravagance, or an expression of creativity? Whatever you may think of weddings in Bangladesh today, they're definitely hot and happening, and will probably continue to be so for a very long time.
By Sabrina F Ahmad
Models: Suzanna, Samia
Make-up & Styling: Farzana Shakil
Photo Direction: Khaled Mahmud, Head Office
Photo: Munem Wasif
Weddings, past and present