Weddings are a grand affair in India. Not only do they celebrate the commitment of the bride and groom embarking on a life-long journey together, they also symbolize the coming together of two families. Indian weddings are steeped in tradition, rituals and customs, some religious, and some cultural. These traditions extend even to the attire of the bride, where each item of clothing or jewelry holds a special significance. It is easy to understand then, why any wedding would be incomplete without Indian bridal jewelry.
Jewelry plays an important role in enhancing the beauty of the blushing bride, more so when it holds a traditional and cultural significance as is the case with Indian bridal jewelry. For instance, the set of 21 ivory bangles, called ‘chooda’, worn by North Indian brides are gifted to them by their maternal uncle. Worn anywhere between a period of 6 months to a year after her marriage, they serve as a reminder to the family that she has married into, that she is a new bride and must be treated as a princess. ‘Klira’, or the long adornments that hang from the ‘chooda’ of a bride, are also gifted to her by her maternal uncle. They perform much the same function as the ‘chooda’ and make physical work an impossible task, preventing the new bride from doing any household work during the festivities. Although now seen as a fashion statement, a ‘nath’ or nose ring symbolizes the purity and innocence of the bride.
Anklets or ‘payals’ are more cultural adornments and hold little religious significance. With every step taken by the bride, the anklets chime, announcing her arrival and ensuring that all eyes are on her on her big day. ‘Bichua’ or toe rings are worn on the second toe and symbolize the married status of a woman. While all these pieces of jewelry hold significance for a bride, perhaps the most significant of them all is the ‘mangalsutra’. Derived from the term ‘mangal’, meaning ‘auspicious’ and ‘sutra’, meaning ‘thread’ or ‘bond’, the mangalsutra is a chain of black beads with a gold medallion. Tied around the neck of the bride by the groom, the mangalsutra is believed to ward off evil forces and protect the sanctity of the institution of marriage, thus creating a bond between husband and wife. These also act as visible signs of a woman’s marital status.
Brides these days have a wide range of choices to choose from. The market for Indian bridal jewelry is ever expanding. Creatively designed, innovative pieces are making waves in the world of bridal jewelry. These provide the bride with pieces that are essentially traditional in nature with a contemporary twist. While traditionally, gold and diamonds are the preferred choice for Indian brides, the Indian bridal jewelry market today is open to experimentation, as are today’s brides. This has led to the inclusion of not only new designs in jewelry, but also new jewels themselves.
In India, it is believed that there are 16 adornments, or the ‘solah shringar’ that a woman must wear to become the complete bride. Jewelry plays an important role in the ‘solah shringar’. Add to this the religious and cultural significance attached to each ornament and it is clear that Indian bridal jewelry acts as pieces of collective history and tradition.