NEW DELHI: The Kerala Jacobite Church, one of the oldest and most Indianised Christian sects, is facing a sartorial identity crisis—how much Indian is the Western wedding gown or, to be specific, how deep can its neckline go?
With more brides shedding the traditional white saree for the wedding gown, the Jacobite Church is unable to take a call on what the bride should wear during the wedding ceremony. “We have not banned brides from wearing Western gowns. What we have told them is keep the cultural and religious sanctity in mind while choosing the wedding dress. By wearing a deep-neck or see-through gown, the bride is showing disrespect not just to the priest and the church but to Indian culture too,” said a Jacobite priest.
According to the priest, this decision should be seen in a cultural perspective. “It need not mean that the Jacobite Church is against modernity. It is just that the Jacobite Church does not believe that a Western gown is a sign of modernity,’’ added the priest.
The controversy, in fact, started with a priest admonishing a bride who was apparently wearing “too deep a neckline gown’’ for her wedding. He refused to conduct the ceremony until and unless the bride shed her gown and wear the traditional saree. The bride who had invested a fortune in the designer wedding gown was left with no option but to do what the priest had told her.
What followed was an ecclesiastical order which asked the brides to keep “propriety in mind’’ while choosing a wedding dress. Though it did not ban the brides from wearing a gown in as many words, the order which had asked the brides to keep the cultural context in mind did influence the families from opting for a Western outfit.
This stand by the church has nipped many a wedding dream. “It was my long-time dream that my bride would wear a beautiful white gown for the wedding. But we decided to go for a traditional saree to avoid any kind of uneasiness,’’ said John M Joy who got married last month.
But not all are willing to budge. “It is stupidity to ban Western gowns. Why do these priests try to shut their eyes to the changing times? We have decided to go for a gown no matter what they say,’’ said Sara Philip who is getting married later this year.
There are some who choose the middle path. “The issue is not the Western gown. It is about the provocative element in a deep-cut gown. So if the bride is wearing a Western gown with decent necklines and cut, no priest would stop her,’’ said Susan Bobby who has decided to wear a gown for her impending wedding. Some see the whole issue symbolic of the Jacobite Church which is caught in between the ‘Indian ethos’ and Western influences.
“I don’t think wearing a Western wedding gown would be an issue for the Catholics who always look up to the West for inspiration. But in Jacobite and Orthodox churches which are very conscious about their Indian identity, these kind of issues crop up,’’ said theologian Geevarghese Mathew.
Jacobite Church is one of the powerful Christian groups in Kerala.