Where are Your Bangles & Bindis?

I’m forgetful, and sometimes I’m a mess. I don’t spend hours in front of the mirror before I leave the house, most days I don’t wear make up. Often my chunni doesn’t match what I’m wearing. I am no fashionista. I am however an ‘Indian’ wife now, and it’s become clear that this shouldn’t be the case. Some things which are regarded as “fashion accessories” in the West, are in fact important marriage symbols in India.

A traditional Hindu wife should be embellished and adorned from head to toe, showing off her marital status, she should look like Goddess Lakshmi (the Goddess of wealth) around the clock. I already committed the greatest faux pas by wearing hardly any jewellery on my wedding day, there was lot’s of gossip and I was called “plain” (which wasn’t too pleasant, but, I’m over it). The traditional Indian wife can be found daily wearing a saree, her mangalsutra (a necklace which acts as a wedding ring), sindoor, earrings, a nose ring, silver toe rings, bangles, silver anklets with bells on (so people can keep track of her around the house) and a red bindi.

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Without fail, you’ll find me wearing my mangalsutra (because I never take it off), my silver anklets with bells on (another item I never take off, because I can’t, they are practically welded to me) and my sindoor (because it’s my favourite tradition and I wouldn’t be found without it). The other marital symbols can be forgotten and if someone from the older generation sees me without a bindi or bangles, they will ask why and try and rectify the situation.

Several aunties have come at me with a bindi from their purse, their emergency bindi stash which every Hindu woman seems to have. Several months ago I popped downstairs to the nearby restaurant to buy some samosa, as I waited for them to be packaged, a priest appeared with a small pot of scarlet vermillion and a stick, without saying a word, he poked me with the stick, right between the eyes. Apparently horrified that a married woman wasn’t wearing a bindi.

My grandmother-in-law gets upset if she sees me inauspiciously bangless, and always asks why I’m not wearing earrings. When she found found out that my husband was going to marry a ‘foreigner’, the first thing she said was, “but what if she won’t wear a bindi?”. I love wearing jewellery and I think that the symbolism of the bindi is beautiful, but I’m forgetful. It’s interesting how uncomfortable people can get if I am forgetful, it shows how important these things, which would be considered ‘just fashion accessories’ in the West, are in Hindu culture.

I think about the women who cannot afford bangles and silver anklets and how they may be perceived by the community because of that, should such importance be given to appearance and things that sparkle?

Looking much better during my first Mahalakshmi festival

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Bangles for Goddess Lakshmi

Bangles are very important to Indian women, ‘married women should never have bare wrists’, my friend told me after seeing me bangleless. The next time I saw her she had sweetly bought me a beautiful set, which I have worn every day since.

Glass bangles are traditionally worn and even though it is very inauspicious to admit, I have accidentally smashed a couple, wearing two gold ones at either end usually protects the fragile glass ones.

You want to avoid breaking a bangle as it is seen as a bad omen, oh darn.

These glass bangles are difficult and painful to put on, there is a special knack to it. I thought it would be preferable to buy a bigger size but there is a traditional belief that the smaller, the happier the marriage. I wonder if that means women with big hands have unhappy marriages? Should we perhaps test this theory with a survey?

During weddings and festivals, lots of bangles are worn. It was quite the scandal when I didn’t wear many bangles during my wedding, so this festival season I will make sure I will not commit the same faux pas.

bangle shop in India

After getting a new head for Goddess Lakshmi for the upcoming Mahalakshmi festival, we had to buy her some new bangles. Bangle shopping is great in India, so many to choose from. So many styles and colours to choose from, each with their own meaning. Green bangles have a special significance in Maharashtra (fertility and prosperity), we bought some itty bitty glass ones with a couple of pearl bangles to separate them. They will look very beautiful, I am now extremely excited for this festival to arrive!

There was a small man sat in the bangle shop, who looked to be in his eighties. He had dark lined skin and wore a crisp cream shirt; his facial expression was very solemn, pensive and weary from a long life’s work. What struck me about this old man selling bangles was that his serious face was completely covered in multicoloured glitter, more glitter than a cabaret drag queen. I guess it’s an occupational hazard.