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Mangalsutra: the changing facet

The symbol of wife-dom, once tagged 'traditional', is today being flaunted as a style statement, tells Meeta Mishra.
Hindustan Times | By Meeta Mishra, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JUL 24, 2007 03:51 PM IST

In the wildly fluctuating world of fashion, comebacks are the only constant. Even so, one particular ‘born again’ trend is surprising. The trend in which ‘tradition’ wins over modernity.

Not so long ago, women, especially younger women, had stopped wearing symbols of wife-dom. Things like the mangalsutra and sindoor were tossed away because they were considered symbols of backwardness and servility.

Today, thanks to the saas-bahu serials, that feminist scenario has been turned on its head. Mangalsutras are being worn not just as a symbol of marriage, but as a style statement.

Good luck chain

Says Nolita Lobo, assistant brand manager of the jewellery line Tanishq, "Of late, the demand for mangalsutras has shot up and they come with trendy diamond pendants now."

Sutra tidbits

The word mangalsutra means an auspicious thread or cord. It is also called thaali or thaaly or maangalyam in Telugu and Tamil in Southern India.

A mangal sutra is an Indian symbol of Hindu marriage, consisting of a gold ornament strung from a yellow thread, a string of black beads or a gold chain.

It is comparable to a Western wedding ring, and is worn by a married woman until her husband's death.

According to Hindu culture, there are five signs of marital status of women. They are mangalsutra, Toe rings, Kumkum, bangles and a Nose ring.

Mangalsutra is the most important among them.

It is probably passed from South India to North India.

Mangalsutra are made in numerous designs.

When a marriage is arranged, the pattern is usually chosen by the groom's family according to their customs.

Mangalya dharanam (literally "wearing the mangalya") is the most important part of a Hindu marriage ceremony.

The mangalya is strung on a yellow thread prepared by using Turmeric paste.

It is tied around the bride's neck with three knots. In some families, the groom ties the first and his sisters tie the rest.

Later the mangalya may be restrung on some auspicious days.

The pendants aren’t the only thing to have changed in this traditional piece of jewellery. In keeping with today’s style trends, the strings, traditionally 22-24 inches long, have shortened to 18-20 inches, so that they rest on the neck instead of the waist when worn.

This was how actress Gauri Pradhan wore her mangalsutra on Nach Baliye 2 – a thin string of black beads and diamonds (with jeans and a spaghetti top).

Not satisfied with just one mangalsutra, new brides now buy three to four pieces a year. Preferring to wear heavy mangalsutras (40 gms or more) to weddings and functions, they keep the lighter ones (5-15 gms) for everyday use.

The demand is so huge that it has become an independent revenue earner for most jewellers. “We have seen a 100 per cent growth in this category over the last year,” says Lobo.

Other jewellers have similar tales. Amit Mehra of Mehrasons Jewellers, Delhi, says his store does brisk business in mangalsutras.

“Many young girls take an active interest in buying them. Earlier this task was left to mothers and grandmothers.” If you thought this trend is fuelled by women only, get this – husbands also gift mangalsutras to their wives!

Actor Ronit Bose Roy (or Mr Bajaj of Kasautii Zindagii Kay) did exactly that when he got married three years ago.

Neelam Bose Roy says: “My mangalsutra was Ronit’s first wedding gift to me. It is a beautiful piece of jewellery that I wear all the time.”

Thin red line
Neelam also likes to wear sindoor. “Initially, everyone thought it was just a fad. Some even thought I was copying Komolika’s (the vamp from Kasautii Zindagii Kay) style of wearing sindoor (a triangle jutting out from the hairline), but that was not true.

I like putting it on the forehead instead of in the parting. My family thought I would abandon these rituals once the charm of being married wore off, but it has been three years and I still use it.” And then there is Chennai-based graphic designer, Divya Subramanian Mardia. Divya is a Tamilian married to a Maratha.

While Tamilian wives wear the tali, Maharashtrians have mangalsutras. So she switches between both as the occasion demands, and is equally comfortable in either. And jewellery designer Poonam Soni believes that the mangalsutra and toe-rings complete a bride’s look, making her look special.

Toeing the line

The trend is not limited to






, the red bangles worn by Sikh brides for at least 40 days after the wedding, are also in favour. A few years ago, new brides who were most comfortable in jeans and tees couldn’t wait to take off their chuddas.

Now, brides like Ripu Singh wear them with western clothes. And Prabhjeet Kaur goes clubbing with her new husband and their friends wearing her chudas. “It is hardly something that people comment on,” she says. “Who cares if the bangles don’t exactly match my outfits?”

The toe-ring, often gifted to the bride on her wedding day by her mother or mother-in-law, has also returned. But now you don’t need to be married to wear a toe-ring.

It’s just another item of jewellery and these days it comes in a variety of colours, styles and budgets. While traditional sterling silver and gold pieces are still available, you also find cheap rings with funky designs and engravings at roadside stalls.

Why? Because if you wear sandals, your feet look so much more interesting. What next? The mangalsutra as a belt? Watch this space!

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