Mangal-sutra

Mangal = auspicious
Sutra = thread

Mangal Sutra is a recognisable symbol of a married Hindu woman.

Once married, Hindu wear a necklace with a gold pendant.  In North-Indian tradition, the necklace is often made of black / red glass beads or coral beads and strung with gold. 

In South India, the necklaces are often made from a colourful cord.  The shape, size and number of gold pendant(s) used are rather dependant on the cultural background of the wearer.

To an Indian woman, this is rather like wearing the wedding band.  It is considerably longer and heavier than the gold wedding band, but it serves the same purpose.  Its an overt signal to all around, that the lady is spoken for.

Glass / coral beads and the multi coloured thread, represents the fragile nature of relationships. 
Black beads are usually used in preference to any other colour, as black colour is said to avert the evil eye. 
Sometimes, red coral beads are used, as coral is associated with Mars – Mangal in Sanskrit – and is considered to be auspicious.  

Mangal Sutra is invariably given by the groom to the bride at a key stage during the wedding.  It is his way of saying, “You are as precious as this (gold) necklace to me” and his way of showing that he values her above all else.  

It is called mangal sutra, because it represents “auspiciousness”.  By wearing it, a woman announces that she is happy and fulfilled in her life, this is what makes her “auspicious”.   The sutra represents the many strands of emotions, love, faith, trust, friendship etc that go into making up a relationship.  Especially as this relationship is to last a life time.  It also represents the many other relationships that bind them now - those of the two families that are now woven into one.

In an age, not too long ago, a married Hindu woman would not part from her mangal sutra, no matter how hard her financial situation became.  It represented the very essence of marriage to her and was often viewed as a talisman to protect the life of her (beloved) husband.   Mangal Sutra, along with the auspicious glass bangles, it was only taken off upon widowhood. 

In addition to a Mangal-sutra, there are a number of other ornaments that are worn as auspicious symbols of marriage. 
India being a vast country, it has innumerable different traditions followed by its numerous communities.  Different communities consider following ornaments to be essential items for a married woman.
gold earrings,
gold / gem encrusted nose rings,
diadems,
bangles (made of gold, ivory, lac or glass),
rings (on hands and toes)
ankelets etc

 

Like much else now, the mangal sutra is worn a fashion item.  Its wearer no longer exhibiting her marital status, rather her desire to make her assemblage look “authentic”.   Now, women often have different mangal sutras to match different outfits / moods. 

Ok – for those looking for a “male” version of mangal sutra – there isn’t one.   Lighter wallet is all the man has to show for his “marital status” ! 

On a serious note, in some South Indian communities, namely “Lingayats”, a married man may wear two pendants around his neck.  Each pendant is a miniature shrine to Lord Shiva.  Amongst some Lingayats, after marriage, the husband can take on the religious responsibilities of his wife, and hence wears the pendant his wife would have worn prior to her marriage.  In most other Hindu sects, the husband and wife are free to pursue their own spiritual goals.  (see the article on marriage).

 

"Traditional Jewelery of India", by Oppi Untracht, published by Thames and Hudson, is an excellent book to look up traditional shapes, styles, and methods of Indian jewellery.  It is a veritable encyclopaedia of Indian jewellery, covering every period, style and variation imaginable and is wonderfully illustrated with pictures and line drawings.   It covers everything from tribal, animal to royal and temple jewellery.   I would recommend you read it, even if it is just a library copy (if you local library does not have, get them to buy it !!!!! )

 

Bhagwat   

Bhagwat_s@Yahoo.com

 

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