Indian Bangles: Decorative Ornaments



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 untied only when the woman goes into labor pains to symbolically help in an easy delivery.

In the South, a similar ceremony called valaikapu is practiced, when the woman is in her seventh month of pregnancy and comes to stay at her mother's home. The glass bangles of all varieties and colors 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 labor pains begin. The glass bangles are also taken off then.

The Maharashtrians give a woman green glass bangles when she is pregnant. Green is considered auspicious color for a married woman in Maharashtra. The women wear green bangles on all-important occasions.

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 India red glass bangles are considered auspicious for the married woman.

In fact, every Hindu girl in India possesses dozens of colored glass bangles to match her clothes. Girls buy bangles for every festival or occasion-Teej, Navratri, a wedding or a birthday.

Today, the profession of glass bangle making and selling is mostly dominated by Muslims. Ferozabad, a town in Uttar Pradesh dominated by Muslims is renowned for its glass bangle manufacturing.

Bangles Worn by Tribes

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 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 safekeeping, they wear their savings in the form of jewelery.

The Lambadis of Andhra Pradesh wear the graded bone bangles only up to their elbows. The Bastar tribe of Madhya Pradesh wears 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-mâché bangles. Each area crafts bangles using the materials available locally like wood in Kashmir, the rhino horn in Assam and lac in Rajasthan.

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 figurine. The Yakshini idol of the Sunga dynasty (321-72 BC) too wears bangles with intricate designs on it. In Sanchi, the female 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 armlets had forms like creepers, crocodiles, and faces of animals like lions, elephants and peacocks at both ends.

In Banabhatt's Kadambari there is a mention of Goddess Saraswati wearing kangan (bangle) made of conch. Many odes have been written in praise of the bangle with many folk songs woven round it. Kangan, Valaya, Kada, Gajulu, Chooda, Choodi, Bangri are just the different names for bangles.

Handicrafts Trade
Suggested Reading
History Tradition