Saturday, August 3, 2013

The symbols of marriage


In the West, you can tell that a woman is married by the display of a wedding ring/band on her left hand's ring finger. Similarly, you will also see the same on most men - with the presence of a simple band on the left hand's ring finger. In most Western cultures, it is said that the vein that lies below your left hand's ring finger is the only vein that goes straight to your heart. Some men choose not to wear a wedding band, but most do. Every woman wears a wedding band - usually to flaunt their big diamond - it is a sign of being proud to be married. Some Western men (or women) who cheat, wear their wedding band conveniently, but then when they are trying to pick up women in a bar, they remove it. And then some men just don't like to wear jewelry at all, and chose just not to wear it.

On my visits to India, I have noticed that there are so many indications that a woman is married, especially with Hindu women. During a traditional Hindu marriage, the bride can display up to SIXTEEN symbols of marriage ("solah shringar"). But in the every day, these are most common:

(My symbols pictured are: Sindoor, thaali & mangalsutram)

Symbols that an (Hindu) woman is married

Sindoor 
Sindoor or "kumkum" is a red line that you would wear at top of your forehead where your hairline starts ("maang"). Sometimes it is just a small dot, or sometimes women put a longer red line if your hair is parted down the middle. Sindoor can also be in an orange color and it is usually in a powder, although the makeup brand Lakme has started to mass-produce it in a liquid form that dries - in red, maroon or orange. In the West, I usually only wear it as a small orange dot because some Westerners will stop you thinking that your head is bleeding! My husband says to not wear it because it he thinks it is going to give me a bald spot due to its toxicity. Sindoor has some heavy symbolism behind it. It symbolizes the Goddess Shakti which is the goddess of strength. It is supposed to help a woman both ward of the evil eye and enhance her passion to her husband. Just like the bindi, it is seen as a third eye (sixth chakra) in which concentration and spirituality can be enhanced. For myself, I love it when husband-ji puts the Sindoor dot on my forehead. It is a tender moment of sweetness between husband and wife, especially in India itself, where it is taboo to show public displays of affection.

Mangalsutram
Mangalsutram is the Indian version of a wedding ring, because you are never supposed to remove it unless your husband dies. I would say it is the most important symbol of marriage. It is a gold chain (necklace) with black beads, and the design differs from region to region. The black beads are supposed to ward off the evil eye. This is worn all over India, except in the East (Calcutta, etc).

(My thaali pendant)

Thaali (South Indian)
South Indians also wear this second version along with the mangalsutram, which is even more important. It is a simple gold chain necklace with a large pendant at the bottom. The pendant is unique to the particular family/community/caste that you have married into. I found it to be a nice sentimental tradition that made me feel connected to all the women ancestors that had come before me. Your inlaws will typically purchase this for your wedding ceremony.

Toe Rings
Many women wear two toe rings - one of each of the second toe. It is usually a silver ring. The symbolism of this is that the wife is supposed to remember her loyalty/duty to her husband and to never step outside her dignity as a married woman, or to "defy" the boundaries of the family (sounds like the mafia, I know..)

Bangles
A married woman is also expected to wear at least 2 bangles - one on each arm. This can be a plain gold bangle, or a glass bangle. The symbolism of this is to always make yourself attractive to your husband, with never leaving your arms bare. Of course as modern women, there are other ways of making yourself "attractive" (makeup, hair style, etc) but in the olden days, the way to make yourself attractive was to wear your jewelry.

Wedding ring
A wedding ring is probably the least common in India, although with many young urban couples in our generation it is becoming a custom. If worn, the wedding ring is usually worn on the right hand by women or men (left hand is unclean, not auspicious).



A married woman can choose to wear all of the above, or just a few, or none at all. I would say in South India, the most common symbols are wearing the Thaali and the toe rings, but again, it depends on the woman.

***With both the Mangalsutram/ thaali, it is originally tied with a thread and then you can replace it later with a gold chain, on an odd numbered day (I think we did it on the 11th or 21st day after the wedding, I can't remember...) and we put the old thread into the soil of a plant (because it is not auspicious to throw it out)***

***One mistake that Western women may make is to wear only one bangle or only one toe ring. Indians always wear 2, evenly displayed on both sides (symmetrical).***

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(My wedding ring)

I myself like to wear my wedding band as a day-to-day indication that I'm married. My wedding band is a traditional South Indian style ring that is "U" shaped. Many of these styles of rings have a bobble/jhumka having from it, but I chose one without. I get many compliments on my ring especially in Vancouver because it is "so unusual" (because there are only about 15 South Indians in Vancouver...lol) People are also surprised to know it is a wedding ring because it is very different than the Western style single diamond ring.

Interestingly enough, as women in India have the possibilities of showing multiple symbols of being married, men do not. Why is that? Who knows. It could have roots in the patriarchal culture where women "belong" to man/man's family, or even for protection from harassment (although it doesn't seem to stop anybody), or even for social status (unmarried women of a certain age are looked down upon). No man in husband-ji's family wears a wedding ring (including my own husband too) , but I have noticed his friends' starting to wear them. One of my husband's male friends wore a wedding ring with his wife's name displayed across it, which was really sweet. Usually if you see men wearing a ring, it is usually because an astrologer has said that it is more lucky for him to wear a certain stone, or a Navaratna ring for prosperity, good health, etc (which is not an indication of marriage)

Whenever I go to India I wear the full gear - all the signs that I am married, because when I'm there, I practice  "जैसा देश वैसा भेश(jaisa desh waisa bhes)" ("Do as the Romans do"). Although I wear my symbols of marriage for romantic reasons, a bonus is that I have noticed it gains more respect. After all, there are few Indian men (from the motherland) who have the balls to marry a Western woman. And similarly, even here in Indian restaurants or supermarkets, I am usually treated with more respect.

I myself would love to see the roles reversed and see an Indian man wearing up to 16 symbols of marriage. Women love to accessorize and beautify themselves, but it takes a lot of work and dedication. Maybe the men should try too...? 

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What do you think, dear readers? 
Do you like your wife to wear symbols of marriage in the modern times? 
Do any of the male Indian readers wear any symbols of marriage? 
What are the symbols of marriage in your culture, and is it gender based?


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26 comments

  1. You amaze me with every one of your post. We used to ask the same question all the time "Why men doesn't have to wear any symbols?" Than again what would they wear. Mangalsutram would be so gross on them. lol. Wedding band would be okay.But like you said many men take it off and also with Indian's having astrology rings, it might even get lost. Sindoor would be way to go. lol. There is a comedy telugu movie called "Jamba Lakidi Pamba" : men and women roles get reversed and men wear mangalsutram.lol.
    -R

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    1. I have to check that movie out, sounds hilarious! Can you imagine men wearing a set of toe rings on their hairy huge feet...so they remember their loyalty to their wife? Bwahahaha!!!
      I think Sindoor would look really nice on them actually. Maybe in a straight line. After all, the traditional Tamil Iyengars wear the Srivaishnava Urdhva Pundra marking already, why not put another line above at the maang? ;)

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    2. lol. I don't remember exactly but I think in that movie men wear toe rings, sarees and also they get the labor pains.
      -R

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    3. OMG labor pains?? Can you imagine!!! I would personally like to see men try to breastfeed and shove their leaky man-boobs into a baby's dracula-like mouth! Bwahahahahahaha!!!!! Oh, the revenge! :D

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  2. I recently found your blog and really love all your posts. My other half's family wears all the symbols of marriage. They are very traditional and religious, despite living in the UK for 30 years they have not integrated in the slightest. We are getting married in February and his mother is already asking if I will wear the sindoor. I don't mind wearing in India, but I have never seen any working Indian woman wearing it in London and I don't believe in any of the superstitions about it granting my husband a longer life. I do have a diamond engagement ring that I wear on my left hand (sorry MIL!) and hubby will also wear a simple band on his left hand (he wears a lucky stone on his right hand).

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    1. @loveonthebeach I don't think it is a big deal many of the modern Indian girls do the same and many of the MIL's say the same. May be as a compromise you can wear it when you are visiting MIL's house. So, you don't butt heads with her or start on a wrong foot. That will work if you are not planning to live in a joint family. Maybe you can explain it to her if you are living in a joint family. I know you may feel like you are sucking up to her, but it is always good if we can start a relation on right foot than on a wrong foot.

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    2. @loveonthebeach Thanks for reading and welcome! Many Indians live abroad for decades and never integrate...lol. So common! Congrats on your wedding, you must be so excited! I think you could wear whatever symbols of marriage that you feel comfortable with, you pick and choose what fits into your life. I do that with many of the traditions too - just pick which ones fit into my life. Whatever you do pick, I'm sure they'll be thrilled with. And you can still wear the sindoor for a special occasion. I wore it all the time after I was married, but after I had the baby, I can't be bothered unless it's a special occasion.

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  3. I adore all the culture that is in your marriage and your family! It's amazing and I hope that I marry someone who has a very cultured life. All these symbols of love and marriage are beautiful. I know that marriage is hard but you and Maddy make it look so beautiful and easy. I LOVE IT!!! I need to come to your part of the word and visit!

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    1. Awww...that's so sweet. Thanks so much! I'm thrilled that you're one of my regular readers.
      I think I appreciate all the symbolism of many things in Indian culture because I'm so freakin' sentimental! I like that everything has a meaning.

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  4. Hahaha I love this post. I agree with men wearing Sindoor, I have one picture of my boyfriend with a long "teardrop" shaped sindoor mark starting between his eyebrows and going up into a point, the picture was taken at his sisters wedding and it is definitely one of my favourite pictures of him, it looks so attractive. As for the other symbols, I cant imagine him wearing any of them, though he has said he plans on wearing his wedding band all the time. I cant wait to receive my Mangalsutra (hubbys family is from bombay, different pronunciation I guess) I do plan on wearing it everyday, its a beautiful tradition in my opinion. I definitely received a lot more respect when I wore saree and bindi in India versus western clothes, so good point there!

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    1. Totally...the respect that is shown when wearing Indian clothes and/or symbols of marriage is honestly huge. All of a sudden many pre-conceived notions of Western women being porn stars are totally out the window. Which is a good thing lol!
      My husband doesn't wear his wedding ring which annoys me, but he does have my name tattooed on my arm so that makes up for it! ;)

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  5. Thankfully my Indian husband does wear a wedding ring. I don't think I could have it any other way, so I'm glad that he loves wearing it. On a daily basis, I wear wedding ring, toe rings and nose ring. And, sometimes a bindi depending on my mood. For festivals and family functions, I'll put on the bangles, mangal sutra and sindoor (if I remember the sindoor!). :-)

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    1. Me too, I usually wear the whole deck for festivals or important events.
      I hate that my husband doesn't wear his ring, but I can't force him either. Although I secretly want to glue it to his finger in his sleep! ;)

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  6. I don't think it's as common in Kerala. My aunts wear the Thali but that's about it. They don't wear sindhoor or anything. It does seem like a lot of work having to r,ember to wear all of that every day.

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    1. It's definitely a lot of work...not to mention remembering all the crap I have to put in my purse on the way out the door! (phone, keys, wallet, etc)

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  7. Your blog is very interesting and informative.

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  8. I think the sindhoor on forehead is a more north indian thing. In souther india, people just put kungumam on the forehead, between or just above the eyebrows.

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    1. It's totally a North Indian thing, and I even prefer the orange sindoor which is soooo North Indian LOL. Needless to say, I definitely confuse people!

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  9. My husband is from Kolkata and they women there DO wear Mangalsutram there (maybe not as commonly as elsewhere in India?) I never realized that! :)

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    1. We also do in the South :) I think it is a Hindu thing!

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  10. Thank you so much! I have a relationship with an Indian guy for more than 6 years and now he has the balls to marry me (a Western woman), although he has lived many years away from India. I was looking at wedding bands and he told me he felt uncomfortable and with your post, now I know it!

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  11. It is good to wear and put sindoor also

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  12. I just found your website in my searching for a spiritually significant wedding ring for the wonderful indian man I'm about to marry in a few months... Despite not finding what I was looking for, I am really glad to have stumbled upon your blog -- super interested in reading more of your posts. Thank you for sharing your experiences and knowledge!!!

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  13. I have an Indian friend, he's a good man, but I simply don't understand it when he talks about his honour and some other things he talks about, but reading your blog post has given me clarity and an understanding regarding the things he talks about. Thanks.

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