While adhering to traditional dress and ornaments according to regional dress codes, trousseaux today incorporate contemporary designs and fashions.
According to Manu, the author of Manu Smriti, the treatise on laws of life, there are no less than eight forms of marriage indicating the various stages in society’ progress.
Held in high esteem was the Brahma form of marriage in which the father invites the bridegroom who must be of good character, well read in the Vedas and from a good family and gives to him his daughter bedecked in her bridal finery. When she leaves her parents’ house the bride is given jewellery called stridhan over which she was absolute authority. According to the Vedas, the daughter has no right over the father’s property, thus the stridhan was one way of giving her a share of the property which over the years has degenerated to the evil connotations the word ‘dowry’ holds.
Yet, the trousseau was, and still is, something more personalized. While adhering to the traditional, the bridal trousseau has to an extent, followed the dictates of contemporary fashions down the ages.
Wedding garments are generally of rich materials such as silks and velvets and worked over heavily in gold trimmings or brocade. Colours are reds, pinks, and maroons. In fact, all the colours of the rainbow can be included for the Hindu bride, with the exception of white- the colour of widowhood- and black which is considered inauspicious. In India exceptions to this rule can be seen among the Parsis and the Catholics where white is a symbol of purity.
The trousseau of the Indian bride goes a step ahead of containing only clothes and ornaments. The quality and quantity of items given are dependent upon the financial status of the parents. Yet there are some ‘norms’ which are adhered to by all, from the humblest to the most aristocratic or the wealthiest. However, there is a marked difference in the gifts given to the bride of the north and her southern counterpart. The bridal trousseaux from Punjab, Jammu, Uittar Pradesh, Bihar and Rajasthan contain, besides the ubiquitous sari, the salwar-kameeze or the lehnga-choli which are heavily embroidered with thread. The chunri or veil in a bright red and multicoloured tie and dye bandhini design is almost mandatory. The Rajasthanis use it to cover the bridal bed on which the grooms sit for the tilak ceremony after the marriage and is later used as a veil by the bride.
Among the people of Uttar Pradesh it is used for the gath bandhan (tying the knot) ceremony during the marriage rituals. The brides of Bihar, however, are simply dressed in a new unstitched saffron or turmeric yellow sari but among the zamindars the sari undergoes a transformation. During a special ceremony specialists of bandhini are invited to make the chunri.
Phulkari, the traditional hand embroidery of Punjab is manifested in the trousseau in the form of a shawl or veil and muslin veils in a range of colours edged with gold, are also included.
The Jammu belle is dressed in tight trousers somewhat similar to riding breeches. The kurta is usually made up of velvet and heavily embellished with gold thread embroidery. The dress in olden days was stitched out of a specially hand-woven silken cloth. The bride’s kurta and chunni were usually of the same colour, an auspicious red or pink or maroon and the trousers could be contrasting green.
In Maharashtra brides wear a Paithani sari and shawl with its gold brocade border woven intricately with birds, flowers and geometrical patterns. Other woven saris from this region, such as Chanderis, Indoris, Maheshwaris also form part of the trousseau with yellows, ochres and greens being the dominant colours.
The ensemble of the Muslim bride from Hyderabad is the zari-encrusted blouse with a skirt. The veil is edged with gold tassels and embroidered all over. Tissues and brocades are used in abundance.
The Tamil bride has a minimum of five saris worn during the various rituals of the marriage ceremony. For the main wedding rites, when the mangalsutra is given to her, she is dressed in the nine yards red and gold sari made on the looms of the famed Kancheepuram weavers of Tamil Nadu.
For the church wedding, the Mangalorean, Goan and other Christian brides of India wear white, with a veil on their heads. White too, is the traditional colour of the Parsi bride. Resplendent she could be in either an embroidered sari for which the community is famed or something as westernized as Chantilly lace. The ornaments worn during the ceremony come from the groom’s family. The Bengali bride’s jewellery is all in gold. Her bridal sari is of Benarasi silk with brocade weave and her veil is of tissue.
Besides clothes ornaments are the mainstay of the trousseau. Bangles, mangalsutras and toe rings are all symbolic of marriage. Among the Dogras of Jammu and Kashmir, the nose ring is important. It is usually a very large ring o f pearls and precious stones. Even after the marriage the nose ring is worn for most ceremonies.
The trousseau among the Bengalis is a two way deal. The groom’s family sends their gifts to the bride before the wedding. They are beautifully displayed on decorated salvers or cane baskets. Besides the clothes and ornaments there are trays of sweets, curd, and a fish that is artistically embellished with vermilion and is to be cooked and eaten on the wedding day. The brides trousseau is similarly displayed in the groom’s house. A vanity case is also an essential item especially in the north. It contains the seven adornments for ht efface – kajal, bindi, mehndi (henna), alta, kumkum, (vermilion), a silver comb, a container for perfume, and some missi – a lip colour which duplicates for lipstick.
Furniture and utensils also form part of the stridhan. Copper or brass urns, plates, and vessels are given containing grains or assorted dried fruits. The Tamil Brahmin bride takes along her rose-water sprinkler and a tumbler and spoon for prayer rituals, a lamp and a box for vermilion. The Gujaratis include small boxes containing fifty-one cloves and an equal number of cardamoms. The stools on which he bride and groom sit during the nupitals are also part of the trousseau.
Finally the trunks or boxes containing the trousseau, left open, are handed over by the bride’s family to her in-laws signifying their faith and trust.
The bride then leaves her home and begins a new phase in her life. She is secure in the knowledge that her trousseau, her stridhan, is to help her set up her new home. The things she brings with her are further blessed with a sprinkling of water which makes the gift, so far accurate in form, now a perfect one. As perfect as her wedding, the most magical day of her life.