Monday, April 20, 2015

The sometimes-thaali wife

"A good Tamil wife will always wear a thaali until the day her husband dies", said an old Aunty to me once. 

In Tamil Nadu, the thaali is the most important symbol of marriage that is never taken off, not even for a shower. In fact, it is one of the many symbols of marriage that identify a Hindu wife. In the Northern regions, they may wear a Mangalsutra. In Sikh families, it is virtually unheard of. 

I recently read this article online about women in Chennai removing their thaali's in protest against a TV channel that portrays women wearing thaali's. Traditionally, a thaali should only be removed when your husband dies - so it caused quite a stir. Some people say removing the thaali will shorten your husband's life or bring him bad luck.

If my inlaws read the article, I'm sure they would deem it as "blasphemy". I was unsure of how husband-ji would react, so I asked his opinion about the article. He really surprised me (he is way more free-thinking than I assume!). He said, "that's good for IS a symbol of oppression. Why should women wear it when we men wear nothing?


As a newlywed, I used to wear ALL of my symbols of marriage. I used to wear sindoor, mangalsutra, thaali, wedding ring, bangles, toe name it! Somewhere along after having a baby and becoming lazy, I just felt it was too much effort for me. Husband-ji wears no symbols of marriage, so why should I? Does our marriage have to be reduced to a material symbol to mean something? No. Do I have to prove to other people that we're married? No. Nowadays, I view my daughter as a symbol of our marriage and lifelong commitment to each other, much more than a thaali. Sometimes I still do wear it, but now I only wear it when I feel like it.

For a newlywed, the thaali is a coveted piece. We waited for more than 5 years to get married, so when I finally got to wear the thaali - I wore it with pride - as a way to shout my love from the rooftops. After listening to other people doubt our commitment for over 5 years, I was thrilled to wear the bling and prove everybody wrong. I felt connected to my husband's culture by wearing it. I felt a sense of acceptance into his iron-clad family. An acceptance which I was not sure that I'd ever get. Wearing the thaali made me that much closer to be an "ideal Indian DIL", which I would never measure up to. 

You see, by wearing the thaali (or any other symbol of marriage) you get more respect. Both from the Indian community within India - and abroad. For a Firangi, I noticed that wearing a thaali made me valid. I was no longer the "Western whore" as I was once called. By wearing the thaali, I was promoted to "wife status" - which is the highest status a woman can get in Indian culture.

In my journey of wearing the thaali, it became less as a symbol of love for me - but rather for mere protection. My love and lifelong commitment for my husband existed long before the thaali came along. It was protection from disrespect. Protection from random strangers doubting our union. Protection from people saying out loud, "he's not gonna marry her". My thaali became a symbol of my middle finger to the world.

And that's exactly why I stopped wearing it. 

My love for my husband weighs more than a thaali. 



  1. That was an awesome post Alexandra. You really dont need these outward symbols to prove your union, my husband doesn't wear a wedding ring and its fine by me as I dont wear one either. Like you rightly said, love towards each other (especially after having a baby:-)) is the real protection

  2. Thali definitely gets you more respect from everybody in India.

    I do not have a thali (honestly, I don't like wearing chains around my neck at all) or a ring. Looks like, I am the worst Indian wifey around ha ha

  3. thanks a lot Alexandra for the post. you nailed it by saying this. i wish more people would understand this fact and by that i especially mean husbands more than anyone else! i do not really think the old age people would realize it anyways now, its just too late for them and their ideas are already embedded deep in their minds. but, when the new gen people say the same things, it feels really disgusting.

  4. Great post Alex,

    I think in general, we are wearing less jewelry than ever before because we don't have to prove our love to our spouse. Maybe cost has something to do with this too, gold jewelry is very expensive to purchase.


  5. thats a really really really good reason not to wear a thali :)

  6. Oops, I guess I shouldn't tell my mom that I sold my thaali years ago :-).


  7. I don't know how you did it. Yes, I've seen this in the South. I would be stifled if I had to wear any piece of jewelry all the time. Do read my latest post which talks about symbols worn by a married woman but in a different context. My hats off to you that you wore it this long. BTW, mangalsutra actually is more Maharashtrian or South Indian. The Northies only latched on to it after Ekta Kapoor's serials made them popular. :)


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