Bangles, the decorative ornaments, have over the
centuries acquired a cultural, social and religious significance.
Literature has glorified this ornament and made it the epitome of
The world bangle
originates from the Hindi bangri or bangali which the
dictionary defines as a ring for arm or leg. This typically bland,
banal meaning brings you no closer to your understanding of the
bangle. Compare this to the almost lyrical Sanskrit description: that
cylindrical ornament which adorns the arm.
This adornment or
ornament, the bangle, was undoubtedly a purely decorative accessory
in the pre-Vedic era and even in the post-Vedic times until the
medieval period. Medieval India gave Hinduism a chauvinistic twist
distorting Vedic concepts and introducing ritualistic beliefs and it
was at this stage that he bangle was transformed from being a mere
decoration to becoming a symbol of marriage. The bangle a ring for
the arm, thus began to gain social significance and ritualistic
Hindu unmarried girls
always wear some bangles round both their wrists as it is considered
inauspicious to be bare armed. Bare hands are symbolically associated
with widows who have been denied the right to wear bangles or any
kind of adornment.
Even today in rural
India, a wife breaks her glass bangles hen she is widowed. Urban
India with its veneer of liberation shuns the barbaric ritual of
bangle breaking but then even the city-bred woman, conditioned as she
is by the traditional custom and culture, wears only gold bangles
after widowhood and not kanch-ki-choodi (glass bangles).
Gold bangles per se have
no significance. Almost any woman, regardless of caste, culture or
community, age or marital status can wear gold bangles if she can
afford them. Gold bangles form a part of the brides dowry and
are more an investment or a loud statement of wealth.
The jewellery shops
display some of the most exquisite gold bangles and bracelets
filigreed, carved, gem encrusted and enameled in modern and
traditional patterns. The newest addition is the gold kada
(a hollow bangle) with silver engravings. Like gold bangles silver
too is very popular with the younger generation.
In Bengal the Noah or
commonly termed loha- the iron kada (bangle) is worn by the
married woman as a symbol of her marriage. The bird is also given a
beautifully crafted white conch bangle and a red lac bangle. But the
conch and lac bangles are not as important as the loha. These days
the loha is skillfully encased in gold.
Ivory bangles like the
glass ones are an important item for brides of some communities. A
bride from Punjab is traditionally given slender ivory choodas
(bangles) in white and red. These bangles are given only in
multiples of four. Over the years the expensive ivory has been
replaced by lac and plastic but the custom continues. The bride wears
these bangles for a period of three to six months and as long as the
bangles are on she is generally pampered as the new bride and not
given and kitchen duties to perform. The day she enters the kitchen
to work she takes off her chooda and gifts them to a priest or to the
Even the Gujarati and
Rajasthani birds are gifted one ivory bangle by the mothers
family. Ivory here has not been replaced by the cheaper lac or
plastic. So depending on the uncles financial standing he buys
his nice either a slender bangle which costs about Rs.150/- to ones
that cost over Rs.1000/-. The couple cannot perform the Saptapati
(the seven rounds around the holy fire without which no Hindu
marriage is completed) sans the ivory bangle. So if she has no uncle
her parents buy it for her. A few weeks after her marriage the bride
takes off the bangles.
When the Gujarati bride
conceives, her sister-in-law gifts her a silver chain bracelet. In
the seventh month she is also asked to wear a bracelet made of black
thread and five kowdis (a kind of shell). This bracelet is
unknotted only when the woman goes into labour pains to symbolically
help in an easy delivery.
In the south they
practice a similar ceremony called valaikapu when the woman is
in her seventh month of pregnancy and comes to stay oat her mothers
home. All varieties and colours of glass bangles are literally
stacked on her hands with 21 valay (bangles) on one hand and
22 on the other. She is also given a silver kapu, a thin
silver bangle with clasps. This is unclasped only when the labour
pains begin. The glass bangles are also taken off then.
The Maharashtrians give a
woman green glass bangles when she is pregnant. But then green is the
auspicious colour for a married woman in Maharashtra and they are
given green bungles to mark all occasions. A couple of days before
the wedding they perform a ceremony called the lagna chooda
when a bangle seller comes home and firs stacks the brides hand
with green bangles onto the wrists of every married woman present.
The unmarried girls wear dozens of coloured glass bangles that match
In fact, every Hindu girl
in India possesses dozens of coloured glass bangles to match her
clothes. Girls buy bangles for every festival or occasion-Teej,
Navratri, a wedding or a birthday.
Even the devi
(Goddess) is offered glass bangles. In the south she is offered black
ones, in Maharashtra green and in Calcutta red. In the northern belt
of India red glass bangles are considered auspicious for the married
as green ones are in Maharashtra.
Glass bangles are
generally made and sold by the Kasars, a caste that is solely
employed in glass bangle making. They expertly slip wrist size
bangles past heavy knuckles without breaking any. They expertly slip
wrist size bangles past heavy knuckles without breaking any. The
profession of glass bangle making and selling is almost dominated by
Muslims, in fact Ferozabad, a Muslim stronghold, is renowned for its
glass bangle manufacturing.
Besides glass, ivory,
silver conch, loha and lac there are variety of other bangles worn by
various tribes and communities.
The Ahirs of Rajasthan
and Rabaris of Gujarat, the pastoral tribes cover their entire hand
with broad plain bangles made of bone. The unmarried wear them only
from the wrist to the elbow whereas the married wear them from the
elbow upwards as far up as the underarm. Since these tribes are
nomadic and they cannot keep their assets under safe keeping they
wear their saving in the form of jewellery on their person.
When struck by any
natural calamity like draught or famine, bands of the tribes flock to
the closest town to sell their bone bangles. The Lambadis of Andhra
Pradesh wear these graded bone bangles only upto their elbows.
The Bastar tribe of
Madhya Pradesh wear bangles made of coconut shell. Intricate patterns
designed on white metal are screwed firmly onto the coconut shell.
The Gonds and Bhils wear bangles made out of brass or beads. The
Kashmiris have the most exquisitely painted papier mache bangles.
Each area crafts bangles
using the materials available locally. Wood in Kashmir, the rhino
horn bangles in Assam, lac in Rajasthan. There are many fashionable
bangle in metals, plastics, silk threads etc. the variety is
Ornaments on the arms and
wrists were worn in India from the days of the Indus Valley
Civilization (2300-1000 B.C.) as is evident from the bronze figurine
found in Mohenjodaro. Bangles cover the entire arm of this figures
display bangles as do the cave paintings in the Ajanta and Ellora.
The armlet is rarely worn
today. In the early era both men and women wore armlets designed to
look like a coiled snake. All serpentine armlets were called angada.
The peculiarity of the keyura. The peculiarity of the keyura
was that it was worn on the right hand and was tightened with
the help of a gonad (tassle). The armlets had forms like
creepers, crocodiles, faces of animals like lions, elephants and
peacocks at both ends.
Kadambari we find mention of the Goddess Saraswati wearing
kangan (bangle) made of conch. Many odes have been written in
praise of the bungle with many folk songs woven round it. Kangana,
Valaya, Kada, Gajulu, Choodla, Choodi, Bangri are just the different
names for bangles.