It is a known fact that working out or running to peppy songs fuels the body and stimulates the motor areas of the brain. On one such occasion I found myself humming the tune of the popular remixed Hindi song “Roop tera mastana…”. My mind diverts to the english rap lyrics in between…..
“The woman with black hair and skin so sweet,
the color of ….(something something.. la…la…la…) ;P
Universally respected, world wide accepted,
beauty and brains with the heart thats connected !”
( As you see I was not giving it my complete attention !! 😀 )
Now listening to such lyrics may or may not alter your mood, but I for one get all pumped up and proud of being an Indian woman. That get’s me thinking what is it about the Indian subcontinent that captivates people? There is definitely no scarcity of beauty in the world, so the characterizing factor is probably our colorful and rich traditions.
‘Solah Shringaar‘ – the 16 adornments and certain beauty rituals are performed by many South Asian women. They are most popular before marriage to prepare a bride or during festivities or Puja’s (Prayer ceremonies) like Karwachauth and Teej. They cover the lady from head to toe, adding a sparkle to her beauty.
During weddings these adornments start much before the final wedding ritual. The bride and groom are prepared by the family and friends in fun rituals like Haldi/ Ubtan/ Mandha etc.. (Applying Turmeric paste) and Mehendi (Heena designs) customs. Haldi is said to ward off evil spirits from affecting the couple. Apart from being auspicious the Ayurvedic benefits of haldi are well known. It is said to beautify, cleanse and detoxify the skin, rendering a beautiful glow.
October and November usually beckon the festivities for Indian’s, a lot of occasions to dress up and make merry, be it the Navratri Garba, Dushera , Karwachauth or Diwali. Being a not so new, yet not that old bride myself (Trust me the first year post marriage vaporizes in simply acknowledging the festivities), I decided to look into the history and mythological significance of dressing up the way we have seen our mother’s get ready, and why we are ‘supposed’ to dress a certain way for such ceremonies.
My research was mostly online and from my elders and friends. It can vary culturally or geographically, this is just an overview. The good thing that did come out of this article, for me personally, is a deeper understanding and respect for certain traditions. To understand the thought behind it simply puts things into perspective rather than following it blindly. On a lighter note I will probably be less lazy and put in more effort to doll up for the festivities!
Starting from head to toe:
- Hair decoration
- Nose ring
- Arm band
- Waist band
- Anklet / Payal and Toe rings
- Red saree
- Some also consider these:
Sindoor / Vermilion –
There is something very pious in the wedding ritual of applying Sindoor / Vermilion by the groom on the brides head. Sindoor is a red powder (easily available in liquid form as well) applied in the center hair parting on the head during the Hindu marriage ceremony. Not being very Bollywood like or dramatic (‘Aurat ke sar ka taaj…’etc… please excuse me! ) I simply consider it a proud declaration of wedlock, red being the general color signifying matrimony.
The parting of the woman’s hair is symbolic of a river, and since the day of the wedding it symbolizes her husband’s life and well-being, a river of red blood full of life. Hence, traditionally widowed women do not apply sindoor, depicting a barren dry river bed. Heartbreaking, yes, but this was the reasoning behind it.
Sindoor is composed of an orange-red pigment vermilion. This is purified and powdered form of cinnabar, which is the chief form in which mercury sulfide naturally occurs. As with other compounds of mercury, sindoor is toxic and must be handled carefully. Sometimes, red lead (lead tetroxide, also known as minium) is added to sindoor.
Traditional sindoor was made with turmeric and alum or lime, or from other herbal ingredients. Unlike red lead and vermilion, these are not poisonous.
The pendant shape or round bor (Rajasthani style) , be it any design this hair accessory instantly adds that complete look to a bride. Seated on the Ajna chakra (center of spiritual energy) zone like the bindi, it signifies the holy union of the male and female on a spiritual, physical and emotional level. This has captured the imagination of fashion guru’s across the globe and people in the west are also enjoying pairing this accessory in fun ways.
The use of ‘Bindi’ has always been popular in the Indian subcontinent. It is optional for unmarried women but considered essential to complete the married lady’s look. Of course in modern times women have adopted different forms of use for the ‘Bindi’ depending on their comfort or customs. There is no denying that it add’s an extra charm and complements the traditional look.
My love for the ‘Bindi’ has been fairly recent, I have not experimented with it much but researching for this piece I felt motivated to use it more often.
‘Bindi’ comes from the Sanskrit word ‘Bindu’ symbolizing a dot. There are various interpretations for its use, but the most popular one states that the site of Bindi application (between the eyebrows) is the seat of ‘concealed wisdom’. Hence the Bindi retains energy and strengthens concentration. In Yoga we believe this is the site of the ‘Ajna’ Chakra (There are different Chakra- centre of spiritual energy within the body) meaning ‘Command centre’. From Vedic times, the bindi was created as a means to worship one’s intellect. Therefore, it was used by both men and women. Sandalwood bindi’s were applied to keep the ‘Ajna’ cool, women started applying Vermilion (using the red powder, creating a dot with the tip of the ring finger). Over time there are numerous styles of bindi’s, popularly the self adhesive one’s are used.
Regionally the style of Bindi varies in India. In Maharashtra a large crescent moon shaped bindi (as seen below) is worn with at times a smaller black dot underneath or above.
In south a smaller red bindi with a white tilak at bottom, or red tilak shaped. In Rajasthan the bindi is any of the three round, long tilak or crescent. In Bengal a large round red bindi is worn.
Decorative and ornamental bindis were introduced to other parts of the world by South Asian immigrants. International celebrities such as Gwen Stefani, Julia Roberts, Madonna, Selena Gomez and many others have been seen wearing bindis.
Traditionally the brides hair are decorated with fresh flowers (mostly Jasmin) to spread a sweet fresh fragrance on her arrival.
Kohl (or Kajal) was used by Egyptians, Africans as well as south Asians. Since ancient times Egyptians used it as a form of adornment for the eyes, and also as a cure for any eye ailment. They believed that Kohl could protect the eyes from the harsh sun rays, and therefore large amounts were used to line the upper and lower lash lines.
In india a dot of kohl is applied near the eyes or behind the ear as a protection from warding off negative vibes or evil (in Hindi termed as ‘Buri nazar’).
Call it anything but there is no denying the attractive effect it has when applied beautifully on the eyes. These days it’s considered almost an essential and minimalistic adornment of the modern Indian woman on a daily basis.
This piece of ornament holds special value to me personally, being a Pahari (Pahari = Belonging to the Hills) the ‘Nath’ (Hindi for Nose ring) is a very important ornament. The Pahari women wear their Nose rings on every pious occasion along with their ‘Pichora’ (Traditional shawl).
The concept behind the huge size of Pahari nose rings was that the more your family progressed (richer you get), the more amount of gold and precious stones were added to the nose ring. As you can imagine that increased the weight and discomfort but somehow it never seem’s to bother them much! Supporting these rings are chains pinned to the hair to lift them up and obviously they use their hands too, but these women from Kumaon and Garhwal (Two parts of Uttarakhand) carry it off with utmost grace.[5,6]
As with the bindi the nose ring varies regionally in design and materials. Here are a few examples:
Slideshow : Pahari nose ring, Marathi style nose ring, and Himanchal style nose ring
The other regions and communities also have a major significance for the Nose ring. In many communities like the Rajput community nose piercing is the norm for young girls and on regular days they generally wear a plain small gold/ silver ring, diamond stud or just a black splint to keep the piercing open and infection free.
Generally the left nostril is pierced and Ayurveda associates this site as linked to the female reproductive system. Hence this process supposedly makes childbirth easier.
Earrings/ Karnphool –
One more tradition arising from Ayurveda regarding pressure points, the ear lobe is considered to be the site to maintain the health of kidney and bladder. The ear ornaments come in various designs and styles. Some cover the entire ear lobe while some are pinned to the hair. Some designs are regionally more popular like the Temple design in the Southern parts of India. These are considered holy and it was believed that wearing them wards of evil from entering the mind.
Necklace/ Haar/ Mangalsutra-
In sanskrit ‘Mangal’ means holy and ‘sutra’ means thread.
According to Hindu tradition, the mangalsutra is worn for the long life of the husband. Dictated by religious customs and social expectations, married women have to wear mangalsutra throughout their life as it is believed that the practice enhances the well-being of her husband.
Known by different names in different parts of India, the designs also vary a lot by region. The black beads are said to ward of evil and bless the married couple, keeping the groom healthy and long-lived.
Arm band/ Baaju bandh-
This attractive accessory has enhanced the look of women since centuries. It is basically a precious metal band around the arm, worn below the sleeve line. It was considered a symbol of strength and position worn by kings and queens. These days paired with Indo-western styles along with the kamar bandh (waist band) by girls.
Waist band/ Kamarbandh/ Kardhini-
Apart from accentuating the waist line and holding the saree in place , these are beautiful bands or chains (often encrusted with jewels) are made of gold or silver.
Traditionally used for holding a bunch of keys (symbol of responsibility of the food pantry and house) . The use of kamarbandh is associated with the establishment of being the dutiful daughter in law at their new home, as per popular Indian traditional and cultural belief.
Popularly worn these days by unmarried girls also, as a very attractive and enticing fashion accessory!
Every household blessed with girl child or feminine presence echoes with the musical sound of the bangles. This beautiful adornment holds special significance to married women. Color and materials differ widely from wood, glass, ceramic, gold, silver, shell, ivory bangles are made of many materials.
Gold and glass bangles are considered auspicious by most regions in India. In Bengal the new bride wears conch shell bangle and a red coral bangle locally called shakha and pola. Rajasthan and Gujarat the Ivory bangles or chooda are famous. In Gujurat the maternal uncle gives her the chooda. So is the case with Punjabi brides, they wear these red and white chooda for minimum forty days or longer depending on the individual family custom’s.
In Maharashtra brides wear green bangles to signify creativity, new life and fertility.They also wear solid gold bangles called ‘Patlya’ and carved kadas called ‘Tode’.
In some places the brides hang attractive ‘kalire’ to their bangles and shower it over the unmarried girls before the wedding ceremony. It is said, on whoever a part of the ‘kalire’ drops, she will be the next bride!
Mehendi / Henna –
This adornment is so popular that its application has become an essential full day, fun and frolic filled event for family and friends during weddings. The bride (in some cultures the groom as well) and all women sit together to get their Mehendi/Henna applied by professionals or friends.
Mehendi is derived from the Sanskrit word “Mendhika”. Haldi (staining oneself with turmeric paste) as well as mehndi are Vedic customs, intended to be a symbolic representation of the outer and the inner sun. Vedic customs are centered on the idea of “awakening the inner light”. Another popular belief is that the depth of color depicts how much your spouse loves you ( Trust me I don’t make up this stuff! ).
Mehendi is a popular form of temporary skin decoration with local variants in design. It is widely used in India, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Maldives etc.
On a funnier note it plays a very important role in story lines of many Bollywood movies, numerous songs are dedicated to it!
Anklet/ Payal & Toe rings / Bichiya-
The tiny bells attached to the decorative ornaments of the feet create a sweet tinkling sound announcing the arrival of the bride. (The daughter and daughter in law are considered the form of Goddess Lakshmi by Hindu’s).
It is widely believed that by wearing a payal, one’s energy is not wasted but re-vibrated back to one’s body. This is because, under the Hindu belief, our feet and hands are emanating energy constantly. Precious metals are thought to prevent the release of this energy, and insulate the person from negative environments.
Toe rings/ Bichiya its is believed that they press on certain nerves that pertain to the reproductive system, keeping it in balance and healthy. The reflexology texts mention treating gynecological problems by massaging the second toe.
The most obvious adornment is for the bride to smell pleasant and attractive, especially to announce her arrival. A sweet scent should fill her surroundings to make everyone aware of the presence of the lady.
Red saree / Bridal Trousseau–
Red is considered the holy color signifying matrimony by Hindu’s but these days brides wear any color for the wedding generally avoiding white and black as being unholy for such occasions.
Hathphool, three of the chains pass to a bracelet and five to each of the fingers where they are secured by finger rings. In some cases, the left hand thumb ring may contain a mirror, known as Aarsi.
Aarsi is the thumb ring which some brides wear. It mostly has mirror embedded on it and enable the bride to have a glimpse of herself as well as her life-partner because during wedding rituals bride has a veil and can not see face of her to be life partner.
Mahur is a type of red color ink made out of some plants. In some regions a thick red line is drawn along the outer border of the foot. Mostly in Bengal and some tribal areas Mahur is used to decorate the feet.
Wow!!! Wasn’t this a beautiful journey through traditions? I know the red button in your mind is probably beeping …WARNING!! WARNING!! INFORMATION OVERLOAD but you can’t deny – this post open’s your eyes to the fact that there is a lot more than just getting dolled up 🙂