Marriage Paraphernalia

Gina writes:

Last week, for our anniversary party at work, I realized that I was wearing all of the jewelry and adornments that I own that mark me as a married woman. I thought it might be interesting for my readers to know how an Indian woman shows that she's married, so Corey took a picture of me.

Bindi - The first element is the bindi, which is the dot on my forehead. Unmarried people in India can wear bindis, too, as it's become an element of fashion, but married woman traditionally wear larger bindis that are red in color. It's a symbol of the goddess Parvati and is meant to provide protection to the wearer and her husband. I wear a bindi about half the time; sometimes, if I don't, the girls at work pull a packet of them out of their purse or desk and make sure I'm legitimate!

Sindoor - Sindoor is a red powder that's placed on a married woman's scalp on the part in the middle of the forehead. It symbolizes the wife's desire for her husband's longevity. I've stopped wearing sindoor most of the time, since I have the horrible habit of wiping sweat from my forehead and smearing the sindoor all over! When I do wear it, everyone really appreciates the nod to Hindu culture.

Mangal Sutra - Along with sindoor, the black-bead-and-gold necklace called a mangal sutra is the most important symbol for a married woman. The black beads ward off evil and protect the husband. Gold is expensive here, especially considering that I greatly prefer silver to gold for my jewelry, so I was so grateful to receive a simple imitation-gold mangal sutra from a work friend, Smruti. I wear it about twice per week, especially if I'm not wearing a chuni, or scarf, draped over my shoulders.

Bangles - Any woman or girl can wear bangles (bracelets), but only a married woman should wear red. They are supposed to provide protection to the wearer's husband (sense a pattern here?). I've received about 20 glass bangles from different friends and acquaintances, in different colors. I wear bangles only about twice per week, and usually only one on each arm, since they get in the way of my typing!

Sari - A sari is one of the most beautiful and elegant pieces of clothing I've ever seen. It's a piece of cloth 6 meters long (and about 1 meter wide) that's wrapped around a woman's body in a certain way. A cotton pettticoat is worn under the sari and a short blouse (it's bad to show leg in India, but not midriff!) are worn with it. After a woman is married, she generally stops wearing salwar kameez (the tunic/pants/scarf set that you've seen me wearing in pictures) and starts wearing a sari. I think a working woman has some leeway, since some of the married women at SOVA don't wear saris every day. I've worn a sari twice (once to the New Year's Day work party and once to a wedding) and enjoyed the extra layer of glamour, but cannot imagine wearing such ornate dress every day or walking around for 8 hours in it, given my propensity to step on the hem and dislodge the carefully placed folds nestled in my waistband!

Interestingly, each of these customs is tied to some Hindu belief, but it's not seen as disrespectful for a non-Hindu to adopt the customs. Wearing a salwar kameez every day is pretty much expected, but whenever I do something extra, my co-workers love it.