In the Hindu culture, a married woman can be easily distinguished through the display of the kumkum, nosepin, Mangalsutra, bangles and toe rings.
Among these signs of matrimony, the Mangalsutra is the most relevant traditional Indian necklace.
In the ancient Indian language, Sanskrit, Mangal means auspicious and Sutra means thread, so Mangalsutra literally translates to the holy thread.
The ritual, in which the groom ties the Mangalsutra around the bride’s neck, is an integral part of the Hindu wedding and it is called the Mangalyadharanam (meaning taking of the holy thread). The pundit recites the following Sanskrit verse during the ceremony:
"Mangalyam thanthuna nena mamajeevana hetuna
Kante badhnami shubage thwam jeeva sarada satam"
This verse is recited on behalf of the groom and it means, “This sacred thread is responsible for my life. I am tying it around your neck. O maiden having many auspicious attributes, may you live for hundred long years (with me)”.
The sacred thread represents the inseparable bond of mutual love and respect between the couple. The Mangalsutra ceremony is symbolic to the “...until death do us part” vow exchange accompanied by the ring ceremony in a Christian wedding.
The Mangalsutra is believed to represent Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. The golden part represents Goddess Parvati while the black beads symbolise Lord Shiva. Gold stands for prosperity and the black beads protect from the evil eye. Hence as per beliefs, a married woman wearing Mangalsutra protects her relationship from evil and brings prosperity into her household.
This marital necklace is worn by a woman till her husband’s death as an entreaty to the divine powers for longevity of her married life. It is considered to recreate the same pious bond of Lord Shiva and Parvati, for the couple.
Structurally the pendant cups are also believed to bring positive energy into the wearer so that she can take care of her family with sound mind and healthy body.
The Mangalsutra is a part of weddings across different cultures all over India, except the Kashmiri Pundits and the Nairs of Kerala. Generally a Mangalsutra is made of gold and black beads together with an attached pendant, but it varies with the regional influences. Here are some of the common styles of Mangalsutra:
The Mangalsutra culture is considered to have originated in the South of India during the Vedic times, when it was prepared using cotton or silk thread and turmeric stem. The Southern wedding still displays the use of this yellow turmeric infused thread as Mangalsutra, tied around the bride’s neck with three knots.
This yellow thread has a traditional gold pendent called ‘thaali’ attached to it. The Southern especially Tamilian and Malayalam brides may later opt for a gold chain, incorporating the same pendant, as her Mangalsutra.
It is believed that the Mangalsutra culture travelled from South to the Northern parts of India, where it underwent transformation.
In Maharashtra and Karnataka the brides wear the classic gold and black bead Mangalsutra with two golden hollow cups attached to each other, as the pendant. Each cup or vati represents the family of bride and groom respectively. So the symbolic meaning of this Mangalsutra is the union of two different families through the marriage.
Another belief is that each cup represents the sun and the moon, giving power and romance respectively to the union.
The gold and black bead Mangalsutra highlighted with a decorative diamond pendant is more common in the North of India. The Gujaratis and Marwaris generally go for diamond pendant Mangalsutras with double strands of bead and gold.
While the Punjabi and Bengali cultures do not impose wearing the matrimony necklace on a daily basis, the influence of Mangalsutra is evident in their weddings these days.
Coral red beads are used in Mangalsutras especially in cultures hailing from western coastal regions near the Arabian Sea.
The local flora and fauna usually finds its place in a culture and so the red coral beads are used by married women extensively in their jewellery in Konkan and Managalore regions.
With changing times and modernisation, the urban Indian women do not compulsorily wear Mangalsutra post wedding in their everyday life. However, the sacred jewellery still finds its place while decking up for traditional events like weddings.
The Mangalsutra has also modernised to suit the modern woman and has donned the form of fashion jewellery to go with trendy contemporary attires. Opulent Mangalsutras that can be worn as statement necklaces are being offered by the Indian jewellers adapting to the changing trends.
The modern Mangalsutra also incorporates decorative pendants using pearls and Meenakari enamelling. Colourful beads and precious stones are also finding place in the Mangalsutra interspersed with black beads or rhinestones, which retain its essence. Matching earrings are also making it a perfect set of adornment for traditional events.
Culturally Hinduism gives divine relevance to the Mangalsutra with respect to matrimony. Today for the younger married women of India, the Mangalsutra is no longer the sole source of dignity. Also displaying a heavy Mangalsutra on a day to day basis gets impractical for the modern woman, while she is rubbing shoulders with male counterparts at the workplace.
To answer this need, the Mangalsutra is evolving into delicate golden chains embedded with black beads making it more practical for everyday use. Many Indian women prefer wearing such subtle Mangalsutras for their modern lifestyle, keeping the flamboyant ones for special occasions.
Whether today’s Indian woman prefers to display the Mangalsutra everyday or not, every self respecting married Indian woman is proud of her Mangalsutra, which is a reminder of the love and commitment, that she accepted from her soul mate, on her wedding day.
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