Symbols of marriage are prevalent in all countries and cultures. However, unlike the wedding ring that is worn by both the husband and the wife in the West, Indian culture has a wide variety of marriage symbols that vary from one region to another. It is also to be noted that these symbols apply only to women. Married men do not have to flaunt symbols to show they are married, since we live in a patriarchal society. Nevertheless, symbols of marriage are considered auspicious in every wedding, including Bengali matrimony.
While the mangalsutra is the common marriage symbol in northern India, Bengali married women differ in this case. With marriage, a Bengali woman earns three kinds of bangles: shakha, pola, loha, and a red dye called vermilion or sindoor. These bangles are to be worn all the time by married Bengali women and vermilion applied in the parting of their hair.
Significance of These Symbols
Shahkha are white bangles made of conch shells that often come with beautiful carvings. Pola are red in colour because these are made of red corals. These two bangles are the most common marriage symbols for Hindu Bengali women, besides vermilion, and are supposed to be worn on both hands. A woman is made to wear these bangles with the completion of the marriage ceremony and they are meant to be worn for all her wedded life. The bangles are supposed to ward off evil eye and bring good luck to both the husband and the couple’s married life. Since these bangles are very fragile in nature, care must be taken that they don’t break in the first year of marriage. In such a case, it is considered an ill omen for the woman because evil may befall her husband.
Loha is a bangle made of iron and can also be coated with gold. This is worn on the left hand and is gifted to a bride by her mother-in-law when she formally enters her marital home. Vermilion is a red dye that is supposed to be worn on the parting of her hair. Since red is the colour associated with the married state of a woman, wearing sindoor shows the world that she is already married and keeps other men from making passes at her.
Relevance in the Modern Society
Marriage symbols are only for women in the Indian culture since in our society women cease to belong to her father’s family once she is married. To imply that she now has a different identity, she needs to have these symbols of marriage on herself. These symbols are also supposed to keep away bad luck and evil.
However, many of today’s modern and liberated women prefer to not wear these symbols. They may completely avoid all of these or wear only the loha. Sindoor is also used sparsely by Hindu Bengali women. With the evolution of society and the growing significance of women, these bangles have now turned into pieces of jewelry and are found in various designs and styles.