In India, wedding is not only a grand celebration lasting over several days, for ages it has been also associated with romantic images of a groom on horseback (preferably a white one), whisking the bride away to a long and happy future. From ancient myths and legends to the poetic fancies penned by Abanindranath Tagore, this had been a long lasting impression; till the motor car arrived.
The trend started around 1910 and we find a large number of newspaper articles and reports talking about weddings in which the bridegroom arrived at the wedding not on a horse drawn carriage or elephant but rode a grandly decorated car. The longer and the larger it was in size, the better.
For the wedding, the bridegroom’s car was usually decorated with a combination of white and coloured blooms. But the aristocratic families went a step further, they used decorated cloth panels and drapes set with silver coins and metal plates carrying the crest or coat of arms of the respective raja or zamindar leaving the onlookers without any doubt about the lineage of the occupant.
If the car was an open one, it was decorated all around the bonnet and the sides with floral panels. A decorative piece made of flowers and shaped like a swan or a horse, was set on a light bamboo frame and fixed at the front. Apparently, this was an attempt to achive a crossover, combining the advantages of a motor car with the glamour and tradition of an animal ride. This was reported from a wedding held at Faridkot State.
While this was for men, the ladies who were to be shielded from the public eye (more so when they came from princely families), had the purdah car. These vehicles replaced the closed ‘palki’ and horse/ox/camel drawn carriages of the past.
More often, affluent families as well as zamindars would order that the bare chassis they bought from the showroom should be fitted with a square-box bodywork with fewer windows. The few windows that were permitted were covered with heavy drapes and in summer, bamboo shades were used which were then watered to keep the interiors cool. Those inside the car could just get a glimpse of the world outside but they themselves remained in pitch dark as even sunlight would not fill in.
According to journals kept by the ladies of the Tagore family and those belonging to zamindars like the Santosh family, the women passengers listened for the ricocheting sound made by the gravel when the tyres passed on them to deduce whether the car was on the driveway, or on roads or fields. They would try to guess their location – whether they were in a public place or had arrived at their destination.
Car as gift
Not surprisingly, the motor car soon became a major part of the wedding trousseaus and families which could afford it made it a point to do so. In Calcutta, moneyed families would gift a small two-seater made by Morris or Singer or FIAT to the newly-weds for their use. To be honest, it was almost always the bride’s family which spent money on such an expensive gift and not the groom’s.
Obviously, well-heeled families went for the more expensive models. The preferred style was usually a two-seater coupe, even if it was a huge car like a V8 American Packard or German Mercedes or a British Bentley.
Gayatri Devi, the daughter of the Maharajah of Cooch Behar, received a Bentley and a Packard when she became the third wife of Maharaja Man Singh of Jaipur. She wrote later in her memoirs, there was no ‘purdah’ in her father’s house. But from the moment she got married the rules of the royal family of Jaipur were imposed on her. Screens would shut out the windows of the cars she travelled in and she could see nothing outside.
In fact, even at Jaipur station, the car she got into, had full screens, and it was parked on the platform, right near the door of the railway carriage from where she would disembark and even the platform was surrounded by high wooden screens. However, she was a rebel and soon resumed driving but mostly outside Jaipur. She was a fabulous driver and had great sports cars like a Delahaye.
The greater mobility offered by motor car made it a convenient mode of transport and soon it was also an object of glamour and therefore became a part of our lives within a short juncture. All this made our country and our city one of the most important markets for all types of cars and one of the greatest centres of innovation in terms of bodywork and design.