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Wedding-rituals » Indian-customs » Mangalsutra-040906
Mangalsutra - The tie that binds

In India, the mangalsutra is an unmistakable symbol of the married woman, much as the ring is in the West. And now it is also back in fashion thanks to Balaji Telefilms

Mangalsutra Tulsi... Ganga... Parvati... At one point these names brought to mind images of religious icons or pious mothers praying and passing lost knowledge and wisdom on to their children. Now, with the advent of Ekta Kapoor's Balaji Telefilms, Tulsi is Smriti Irani and Parvati is Saakshi Tanwar! Tulsi conjures the image of a strapping woman draped in a Gujarati style sari, sindoor streaking her hair and a mangalsutra hanging like a talisman from her neck - an eternal portrait of the Indian wife and mother.

One of the first extraneous symbols of a Hindu married woman is her mangalsutra. Notwithstanding the abuse it has borne in the hands of stereotype-peddling producers, the mangalsutra continues to remain one of the most precious and meaningful pieces of jewellery a Hindu woman owns. This string of black beads is her most treasured adornment and a symbol of matrimony. By tradition, she must always keep it on, just as the wedding ring symbolises the married status in the West.

MangalsutraHistory and significance
Historically, the custom of tying a mangalsutra, the auspicious emblem or cord, on the wedding day, appears to have become popular only after the 6th century AD. Before this, a yellow protective cord known as 'kankanabandhana' was tied around the wrists of the bride and the groom to signal their commitment to marriage.

The mangalsutra is considered a talisman to ward off the evil eye. The black colour of the beads is said to absorb all negative vibrations before they can reach the bride and her family. The stringing together of the beads into one thread has its significance as well. Just as each bead contributes to making a beautiful necklace, so does the woman have to blend and integrate into the new family after marriage.

Traditional designs
Different castes have different versions of the mangalsutra. For example, the Tamilians wear the 'taali', an extraordinarily crafted pendant, the Maharashtrians swear by the black and gold beads with the double 'vati' pendant, the two 'vati' signifying the coming together of the bride and groom's family. The Kannadigas add corals while the Gujaratis and Marwaris often go for a diamond pendant. The Kashmiri Pandits wear an unusual mangalsutra that goes through the ears!

MangalsutraThe 'taalis' of the Brahmins are the simplest, while those of the non-Brahmins are often complex, stylised works of art. Forms and patterns for 'taalis' are often derived from nature, using symbols like flowers, buds, leaves, trees and so on.

There are a number of rituals associated with the mangalsutra. While in some religions the groom places the mangalsutra around the bride's neck after the completion of the pheras, Arya Samaj weddings don't have use for a mangalsutra. The Maharashtrians tie the mangalsutra with the 'vatis' inside out at the time of the marriage. Then one month after the wedding there is a special 'mangalsutra parthavana' ceremony attended by the women in both the families and the bride's friends where the mangalsutra is set straight amidst much merry-making and eating! Nowadays, the mangalsutra has become a popular first-night gift from the groom to the bride.

The design of the mangalsutra depends on the budget. Moreover, people do go for the orthodox design because of its symbolism. These are emotional matters and generally people shy away from experimentation. Yes, if the family can afford it, more than one mangalsutra is made but the one used in the marriage ceremony is one of traditional design.

MangalsutraBack in fashion
Mangalsutra designs have changed within the prescribed parameters. For example, instead of the conventional gold pendant, women prefer diamond pendants. The length has also been altered to a shorter version that fits around the neck. Instead of two strings people now prefer a single string of black beads, or a gold chain interspersed with black beads. Whatever the modification, the black beads stay constant.

It cannot be denied that the Tulsis and Parvatis have brought back the mangalsutra in fashion along with other symbols of the married Indian woman.

Pooja Mittal-Aggarwal
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