Bangles Jewelry



Bangles, the decorative ornaments have over the centuries acquired a cultural, social and religious significance. Literature through the ages has glorified this ornament and made it the epitome of feminine grace.

The word bangle, which the dictionary defines as a ring for arm or leg, originated from the Hindi bangri or bangali. In Sanskrit there is almost lyrical description of the bangle: that cylindrical ornament which adorns the arm.

This adornment or ornament 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 introduced ritualistic beliefs. It was at this stage that the bangle was transformed from a mere decoration to a symbol of marriage. The bangle thus began to gain social significance and ritualistic relevance.

Hindu married 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.

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 bride's dowry and are more an investment or a statement of wealth.

Bangles in Different Regions

In Bengal, the iron kada (bangle) commonly termed loha is worn by the married woman as a symbol of her marriage. The bride 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 Over the years, the expensive ivory has been replaced by lac and plastic but the custom continues.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 local shrine.

Even the Gujarati and Rajasthani brides are gifted one ivory bangle by the mother's family. Ivory here has not been replaced by the cheaper lac or plastic. The couple cannot perform the Saptapati (the seven rounds around the holy fire without which no Hindu marriage is completed) without the ivory bangle. After a few weeks of 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 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.

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