The Mangalsutra carries immense importance in Hindu weddings as well as in the lives of Hindu married women. It is tied around the neck of the bride by the groom during the wedding rituals, and it is a symbol of marriage which is worn by the bride until her husband's death. The concept is thought to have originated in South India, where it is known as “thali” or “thaaly” or “maangalyam”. It is considered to be one of the three most important ‘Soubagyalankar’ (Soubhagya- “marital status as married”; alankar - “ornament”); an ornament that tells the world that the wearer of this ornament is a married woman. It is a yellow thread dyed with turmeric paste and is tied around the bride's neck with three knots, each of which has special significance from the perspective of a marriage:
Ø First knot signifies lasting loyalty to the husband,
Ø Second knot symbolizes commitment to the husband’s family and
Ø Third knot denotes devotion to the Almighty praying to him for protection of this precious bond.
Although the first knot is tied by the groom, the second and the third knot is sometimes tied by the groom’s sister as a symbol of acceptance. A wife is never supposed to part with her mangalsutra as long as her husband is alive. It is mandatory for widows to discard the mangalsutras along with other ornaments symbolic of marriage ‘soubhagya’. It is considered to be an ill omen if the thread of mangalsutra is broken for some reason.
The mangalsutras usually comprise of two parallel threads with black and gold beads ending in a pendant that may traditionally comprise of one or two gold cups. Each component of the mangalsutra has special significance in Hindu culture. The two strands symbolize the energies of Shiva and Shakti. The traditional mangalsutra designs include stringing of nine black beads interspersed with nine gold beads. These nine black beads represent the nine forms of the Primal Energy or Adishakti.
The left side of the mangalsutra exudes what is known as Iccha-shakti or the power of one’s intentions, the right part exudes what is known as Gnyan Shakti, the power of one’s knowledge. And the junction where the two strings meet at the middle is said to emit the Kriya-Shakti, or the power of one’s actions. Thus by combining all three powers, the wearer of the mangalsutra embodies the Divine Energy that becomes the driving force of her and to those around her.
The golden cups that the mangalsutra holds in the center is placed directly over the wife’s Anahat Chakra or the fourth center flow of spiritual energy in a human body. The hollow in the golden cups represents draining of her emotions, sentiments and negative dispositions in her body and mind. This ultimately takes the wife beyond karma or her worldly duties, rendering the ornament into something more powerful than a mere piece of jewelry to boost the woman’s ego.
Most cultures in India have their own variation of the ornament. They differ in structure and material sometimes, but the basic concept is the same. It is known by many names such as - Thaali, Dehjoor, Minnu or Mangalyam.
Among the Sikh communities of Punjab, the bride’s father presents a gold kada and gold coins or mohres to the groom which are then threaded into a black thread and tied around the bride’s neck.
The Tamils wear the equivalent of mangalsutra and they call it “Thaali” or “Thirumangalyam”. It is generally worn with a gold chain known as ‘ManjaKayiru’ or simply yellow thread dyed with turmeric on the day of the wedding. They may also wear it with the traditional mangalsutra black bead chain called “Nallapusalu”.
Among the Syrian Christian communities in Kerala they use a variation of sacred wedding thread called “Minnu”. These are similar to Tamil Thaalis, but almost always include a cross design on them. The Hindu community uses “Ela Thaali” or “Elagu Thaali.” The word Ela refers to Leaf and the traditional design almost always include a leaf motif. Even Muslim communities in South Kerala wear “Thaali” as part of their marriage custom.
Among Telugu communities the equivalent of mangalsutra is known as Mangalasutramu or “Pustelu” or “Maangalyamu” or “Ramar Thaali” or “Bottu”. It is similar to that of Tamil communities except that it incorporates a variety of precious stones like coral and pearls. Traditional pendants include two disc or cup motifs made of gold.
The Marathis wear mangalsutras with very specific bowl-shaped “Vaatis”, usually made in gold and usually in a pair. They have two types of variant based upon the design of the chains – “Nirgun”, where the whole chain consists of black beads and “Shagun”, where every nine black beads is separated by two gold beads.
The Konkani women, after marriage wear three necklaces called “Dhaaremani” or “Muhurthmani”.
In the state of Karnataka the mangalsutra is referred to as “Maangalya-Sutra”. It is more or less similar in design to the Maharashtrian Vaati and may be studded with pearls or colored corals. Among the Coorgi community the married women wear the “Karthamani Pathak”, a set of two separate ornaments. The “Pathak” is a pendant predominantly a gold coin which is surrounded by cobra motif. The “Karthamani” is the necklace that holds the Pathak and is made of pearls that may or may not be adorned with gold.
Evolution of the Mangalsutra.
Mangalsutra has evolved from a traditional and mandatory ornament meant for Hindu married women into a fashion statement. From simple gold round cup-like designs, it has seen incorporation of various modern design elements and experimentations with different types of metals as well as precious stones. Use of diamond is highly in preferred nowadays and most brides prefer them over pure gold pendants. From typical leaf and flower motifs, the diamond mangalsutra have incorporated geometric patterns and even alphabets. The length of the chain has also seen preference shift from longer ones to shorter. Use of gold in the chain is becoming less popular, with most brides opting for entirely black chains.
As more and more women are getting involved in the professional world, vying for positions that were usually considered male dominant. They are also moving away from the hometowns and starting to live in more cosmopolitan environments and even moving to foreign countries. To keep up with professional demands of specific attires like mandatory outfits, they are having to part ways with the mangalsutra and other ornaments. Despite of all these restrictions, the modern Indian women are finding new ways to incorporate the mangalsutra into their modern outfits by altering the make and opting for sleeker designs, just to stay close to their traditional heritage.