Romantic couplehood has long been the hegemonic ideal of intimacy. In Western contexts, since a higher value is placed on the self and the individual nuclear family unit, intimacy is conceptualized as something reserved strictly for amorous relationships. It results from intentional self-disclosure – that is, revealing one’s personal feelings and thoughts to another. In contrast to the individualistic manners of the West, intimacy as a by-product of familial and friendly closeness is common in Eastern cultures, namely in India. A collective history, shared memories, assumed trust, and definitive safety; intimacy stems from all of these. When isolated from an environment that fosters these things, in the way an immigrant often is, intimacy can reveal itself through cultural traditions. Despite having little value in the West, it’s this intimacy that can feel like a life-raft when you’re cast out to sea, as the Sharma family illustrates across the season.
Perhaps the most memorable example of the intimacy in tradition is Bridgerton’s haldi ceremony scene, where Edwina Sharma is preparing for her wedding. In Hindu practice, the haldi ceremony is meant to be held the morning of one’s wedding day. It marks the beginning of a long set of marriage rituals and involves a paste made from turmeric (haldi), sandalwood, and rose water being applied on the face, arms, hands, knees, and feet of the bride and groom to bless the couple before their nuptials. The bright yellow color of the paste is considered auspicious and believed to ward off evil spirits, and the medicinal properties of haldi is said to bring a healthy glow to the wearer in preparation for the upcoming occasion. Nowadays, haldi ceremonies are celebratory, filled with music and pomp and crowds of loved ones showering well wishes upon those soon to be wed.
Bridgerton shares with us a different version of the event. In a breathtaking, dreamy scene where garlands of orange marigolds are strung throughout the room, Edwina’s mother mixes the haldi paste, and her sister spreads it across her arms as the three women dressed in similar shades of the aforementioned auspicious yellow muse on her future as a bride, a Viscountess. Edwina has been dreaming of this day, the exact moment where haldi would be smeared across her face in preparation for the marriage she has been well-groomed for her entire life. There is no pageantry or spectacle, as there would be if you were to attend a haldi ceremony today, but there is intimacy. In the throes of a cultural tradition that is commonplace back home, three women who are outsiders in the society they have been thrust into have only each other to celebrate the passing of a major milestone. While isolated, the collective experience they share is enough. It’s about more than the superficial beauty of the scene, it’s the promise that when all else feels foreign, the comforts of our history can be there to ground us.