Time was when only married Indian women would wear them. But now bichchiyas or traditional toe rings have become a fashion accessory for city girls. Available in plastic as well as metal, they are being flaunted on feet clad in sandals and flip-flops.
"Toe rings were a traditional ornament for married women. But gradually, their visibility started decreasing. Now they are booming back and the demand has doubled in the past five years," Mayank Goyal, owner of a silver shop at Janpath in central Delhi, told IANS.
As the social sentiment attached with toe rings seems to be fading in cities, the designs too are undergoing a seachange. The market is flooded with imprinted designs and multi-coloured stonework toe rings.
Single coloured and thin bands in plastic and metal are also available. Even the traditional silver toe rings are a major craze among young girls.
"The young generation has a mixed style of dressing; so the designs of the product are also made in a way that it gels with their taste," Goyal added.
Brajesh Kumar, a roadside accessory vendor in a popular south Delhi market, said: "The tradition of wearing toe rings still carries tremendous social significance in India. In many traditional families these are very much a part of the bride's trousseau. But with time, designs and patterns of toe rings have changed."
Kanika Mehta, 22, says when she flaunted a colourful toe ring, her aunt taunted: "Only married women are supposed to wear these".
But Mehta doesn't care. "I was honestly irritated with the comment. I wear it because it is very popular in college and it looks very cool with open sandals and flip flops. My mother has no objections, so I wear them and like to match them with my clothes or footwear."
Like her, many girls are spending generously to have a good collection of toe rings.
Poorvi Aswani, a first year student of Delhi University, feels these are an extension of one's personality.
"Toe rings are funky and cool. They are add-ons to your attitude and personality. The best part is they are available in many varieties that I can sport them with different kinds of clothes - be it Western or Indian. And moreover they are easily affordable," she said.
From what used to be sold by a local vendor for Rs.30 a few years ago, toe rings could now cost as much as Rs.250.
"Our starting range is Rs.100 for a single toe ring and the price goes up to Rs.225 for a pair or above for the fancier range," said Girish Malik, an owner of an accessory shop at Janpath.
In case you want to indulge in gold and diamond toe rings, it can burn a hole in your pocket.
Foreigners too are lapping them up. "Toe rings are a big hit among youngsters as the maximum number of customers that we receive are the young college going girls. But even the foreigners are crazy about them," said Goyal.
It is said that toe rings were introduced in the US by Marjorie Borell, who, after returning from India, began manufacturing and selling them in New York in 1973. She sold toe rings in silver, gold and diamond through retail chains like Bloomingdale's, but moved on to a different profession thereafter.
However, the craze for the accessory has continued. "We attend 8-10 customers in a week. Foreigners have a very strong liking for 'bichchiyas'. They buy them in bulk and are not very choosy while picking them up. For them, it is a very ethnic Indian thing," Malik added.