Without question, the most anticipated time of year in Bangladesh is neither spring nor the last monsoon, but rather,?wedding?season. For the upper-class residents of Dhaka, the nation’s capital and home to 18 million and counting,?elaborate nuptials?are a lifestyle—and one that spans well beyond a single day?of vows, dinner, and dancing. Taking place in winter, the cooler temperatures and holiday schedules allow for the multiday processions to range nothing short of a five-day workweek. There are upward of 2,000 guests, all of whom are left dazzled after a?marathon?program of choreographed dance, song, and rich tradition. It’s a days-long parade with a production value resembling that of a big-budget Bollywood feature: extensive lighting crews, licensed animal trainers, professional set design teams,?not to mention multiple outfits (all custom-sewn saris that range in color, fabric, and ornamentation) and hair-and-makeup changes (daily, six hour-long sessions are typical). ?
Beauty rituals are an integral?and dizzying part of traditional?Bengali?wedding culture that date back hundreds of years. Multiple ear and nose piercings are custom for every woman, as they represent maturity and femininity. Henna, an ancient form of body art fit for all genders, classes, and religions, decorates limbs as symbols of the inner light’s awakening. The markings show the couple’s willingness to receive blessings, as well as serve as protection;?peer closer and it’s easy to find intimate secrets between the betrothed couple hidden in plain sight on the skin. Historically, pre-wedding, full-body whitening treatments have been used to lighten one’s facade, for in?Bengali?culture, skin untouched by the sun is considered the ultimate sign of distinction. Then, during the ceremony, each couple sits for their?gaye holud, a custom in which brides and grooms are fed sweets and covered in turmeric paste, a natural skin brightener, to appear paler for their big day. Stemming from the Hindu allegory of the Supreme Being Lord Shiva’s wedding, it remains one of the most celebrated practices among Hindus and Muslims alike. ?
For 24-year-old Nobaira Hassan, one of the many brides included in this project, photographer Rena Effendi captured everything from family portraits inside the Dhaka conventional hall, built to fit thousands, to an hours-long trip to the salon. There, makeup artist (and local celebrity) Farzana Shakil enlisted two assistants to do her makeup, hair, and arrange the jewelry, a combination of inherited pieces from her mother and gifts from her groom. On her wedding day, appearing statuesque and noble in her?naaker nodh?(nose ring),?churi?(bangles),?and?ti