An Indian bride’s treasure of ornaments is incomplete without bangles. Bangle defines their identity and enhances their beauty. It is a lot more than just being an ornament for brides and a fashion accessory for young girls in India. Wearing bangles is a choice for unmarried girls, while it is a tradition for brides. Interwoven with the socio-cultural fabric of India, bangles are as varied as Indian traditions and customs. This article is a walk through the invention, evolution, significance and stories of bangles in India society.
Science behind the Invention of Bangles
Exactly when Indian women started wearing bangles is unknown. But why they added bangles to their caskets of ornaments has several theories and legends. The most convincing and widely accepted theory as to why Indian women wear bangles, much like the stories of science behind seemingly superstitious Indian customs, has a scientific truth.
In the ancient Indian society, women were bound to household chores while men used to toil and moil in fields under the sun and in the rain. When Indian women were not socioeconomically empowered, they hardly stepped out of the home except for social occasions and there was not much physical work for them at home. A sedentary lifestyle was often thought to cause impatience and high blood pressure. To control this, both unmarried girls and housewives were made to bind their wrists, arms and ankles. Thus bangles, armlets and anklets came into being as ornaments. The constant friction between the wrist and bangles stimulates the blood circulation in the body.
I too find this theory convincing, but I disagree at one point that women’s household work was less physically intensive in those days. Rather Indian women used to work hard in home since there were no kitchen appliances like mixers, washing machines, vacuum cleaners, etc. Grinding spices, drawing water from wells, washing clothes and cleaning a house: all these were physically intensive manual activities for women. Anyway. Bangles were invented as a solution which has evolved into a fashion for both unmarried girls and married women over ages.
One of the reasons why some women wear bangles, is that they believe it provides them divine energy and strength to stay healthy. As women grow in age, they sometimes suffer from diseases resulting from the gradual loss of calcium and iron in the body. Gold and silver ornaments are believed to provide maximum energy to women. Naturally, the metallic energy of gold and silver ornaments enters the body through friction with the wrists and strengthens the bones of the hand. The longevity of women of older generations and bygone times is attributed to this transfer of strength and energy, allowing them to remain active and healthy till the last breath.
Bangles in Indian Society: Evolution and Significance
The significance of wearing bangles has been a changing phenomenon in Indian society. The cultural evolution of India shifted bangles from a tool to control the movement of women to a symbol of marital identity to an object of feminine grace before becoming an ornament of fashion.
In rural backwaters of ancient India, both unmarried girls and married women had to wear bangles. Since women were restricted to indoor activities, the tinkling of their bangles signalled their presence in the house. It still prevails in some remote regions of today’s India. This could be why wearing bangles became a must for married women. Initially, it was bondage. Then it was made a tradition to signify the married status of women. In those days, it was also believed that the sound of bangles kept supernatural things with negative energy out of the house.
When the use of bangles became a sign and symbol of women’s marital status, some beliefs and superstitions got into this tradition in some communities including the Marwari and the Gujarati. In some parts of India, it is still believed that women should not wear gold bangles without pairing them with couples of glass bangles because it symbolizes the well-being of their husbands and sons. In some other parts of India, it is superstitiously believed that women should not remove all bangles at one time and keep their arms bare because it brings bad luck to their households. Traditionally, breaking of bangles on the hands of married women and would-be brides is considered inauspicious.
With the passing of time, bangles have become trendier in keeping with the changing fashion of women in urban and semi-urban India without losing their essential significance. Metal bangles with geometric designs and funky looks slowly crept into the treasure of unmarried girls and fashionistas. In the 21st century, funky, trendy, stylish bangles accentuate feminine grace and beauty rather than signifying age-old beliefs about prosperity of households and wellbeing of husbands. However, the traditional significance of wearing bangles has not changed for newly-wed brides in India.
Customs and Traditions with Regard to Bangles across India
Every Indian state has its own customs and traditions with regard to bangles. Bangles vary in design, color, material and look from one state to the other. The colors and materials of bangles point out to the regional and communal individuality of Indian brides. For instance, married women in the Bengali community wear a pair of conch shell bangles and a pair of red coral bangles, which are locally called shakha and pola. Mothers-in-law gift gold plated iron bangles to new brides while welcoming them to the household. It is an age-old custom in Bengal. Bengali brides are easily identified for their shakha and pola.
In Punjab, both brides-to-be and newly married women do customarily wear ivory and red bangles called chooda in the local language. Brides receive sets of chooda from their maternal uncles at the time of marriage in the Punjabi community. They wear those ivory and red bangles for a definite period of time. In some Punjabi households, a bride is supposed to wear those bangles for forty days or more.
The Marathi community has its own bridal chooda for married women. It is a set of green glass bangles and solid gold bangles. The glass bangles are worn in odd numbers. Gold bangles are called patlya in Maharashtra. Marathi brides receive gold bangles from her in-laws. Gold bangles are popular also in south Indian states: Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Gold is believed to be auspicious in these states. In Gujarat and Rajasthan, ivory bangles or chooda are an essential part of the bridal makeup.
About the Author
This article is brought to you by Mrs Uma Lakshman, an Indian American social entrepreneur from Atlanta. A data engineer by day and an activist entrepreneur at night, Uma is actively involved in several non-profit pursuits and has kick-started one in San Diego to help the South Asian women in need. She has blended compassion with entrepreneurship to create a niche market for handmade bangles under the umbrella of her organization, BigBangles Theory, in USA. She along with her mathematician sister has developed a Facebook app with a unique algorithm that helps women find their bangle size.
Check beautiful bangles on her Facebook page
An excellent article by Sourav Agarwal.