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Dotting the Line – Accessories Worn by Indian Women

A woman needs no reason to adorn herself but Indian tradition makes it easy for her by giving her some compulsive ones.

Since aeons a woman is known to adorn herself with as many accessories as she could physically manage to carry. If there were bells on her toes, there were rings on her fingers and belts on her waist not to mention the necklaces around her neck. In India there are texts that describe her many adornments in details and even the many ways in which she should make herself up.

No feminist movement has been able to wipe away this penchant for adornment, more so because all of them are couched in beliefs of prosperity and happiness. They are symbols of a secure future.

The most eloquent example of this are the symbols that identify a married woman from the unmarried. A married woman would never he caught without these accessories. She believes the happiness and life of her marriage is embodied in them!

You must have seen many women wear the bindi or the dot on the forehead. There are many reasons attributed to why a woman should wear a bindi. Some say its place between the eyes on the forehead is a spirtitual centre, the colour of which is red.

To awaken it and nourish it, a woman wears the red dot on her forehead. Tantrics say that it is the spot by concentrating on which a person can be easily hypnotized. So a woman wears it as a security against Tantrics.

Extending the argument further is the feeling that when there is a bindi on the forehead, the intensity with which anybody can gaze into the person’s eye is reduced. The bindi is believed to distract attention and so it is believed that women will not be hoodwinked by any man.

There are yet others who say that to keep a woman’s amorous feelings heightened in a society that is restraining on her, she wears the red mark on her forehead and along the parting of her hair.

If that is one way of looking as it, jewellery designers say in those days when women and men wore a lot of jewellery, women wore a piece on the parting of their hair. This piece fell on to the forehead either as a big pearl or a beautifully designed pendant. When women stopped wearing this piece of jewellery, they started wearing the bindi.

It is for these reasons that a bindi got inextricably involved with the marital status of a woman. Today, however, most urban women have not heard of any such explanations. They wear it as an ornament and it comes in different colours and shapes.

All you have to do is to sick it on to your forehead. In earlier times it was a powder in varying shades of red, one of the main components of which was turmeric powder. Turmeric powder is considered very auspicious and so once again it is associated with fertility, prosperity and good omens.

In South India, the bindi is worn even before marriage, but for an older woman it signifies her marital status. In some northern states and in Bengal, the sindoor is worn all along the parting of the hair. Only a married woman wears it this way. In fact her husband is supposed to fill the parting with sindoor (vermilion) and thus marry her.

Another symbol common to women across the country is the mangal sutra also called the thali. Different communities have fashioned specific chains worn for the first time by a woman at the time of her marriage and she is never to take it off as long as her husband lives.

There are some communities that perform special prayers to the chain while wearing it around their necks. No wonder then that women want this chain to be thick, with large quantities of gold, for ornamentation apart, its strength will, they believe be in direct proportion to the strength of their marriage.

In South India, two chains are worn. One is a golden one and the other a thick thread coated with turmeric. Both of them have a thali woven into them. The thali is a rectangular piece that bears the cast mark. The shape of the thali may, however, change from community to community. In Maharashtra, women wear black beads around their neck as symbols of marriage.

In the western state of Bengal, a red Bengal with gold work and a white bangle made form conch shell are worn together as a sign of marriage. In Rajasthan ivory bangles signify martial status.

In many parts of the country, toe rings are also a sign of a happily married woman. Toe rings are made of silver and gold and they are worn on the first toe. If you catch the vain woman you may see it on all her toes. In a tribe in Arunachal Pradesh, huge anklets of bamboo rings in bright colours used to be worn around women’s ankles to signify that they were married.

In another tribe, tattoos signified the marital status of women. In a tribe in central India, the sari itself was worn in a different manner after marriage. This is true even in Tamil Nadu where before marriage the style of draping the sari changed and for this style nine yards were required.

Today, in urban India thalis are worn for decoration rather than sentimental reasons while in rural India, they are being embedded with diamonds purely for sentimental reasons. Toe rings are the ethnic in-things and come in fascinating shapes, sizes and designs, Bindis, ofcourse are in infinite number of colours and there are even some little blocks with the help of which you can stamp a very complicated design on your forehead!