The wearing of bangles in South Eastern Asia, particularly in India, lives and breathes tradition with its roots going all the way back to ancient times. In modern times, it exhibits no sign of slowing down as the use of bangles for married Indian women is still compulsory. The word, bangle, was derived from the Hindi word bangri or bangali, which in Sanskrit means the ornament which adorns the arm.
The history of bangles in India is reflected in one of its oldest art pieces, the bronze figurine of a dancing girl excavated at Mohanjodaro. This epitomizes the antiquity and the universality of wrist ornaments in India as the figurine stands with one arm at her hip, the other arm completely weighed down with a collection of bangles. Ancient fragments attest that bangles were made from terracotta, stone, shell, copper, bronze, gold, silver, lac, and even glass. From simple metal bands to ones decorated with etched and exquisite designs of bird and animal heads studded with gems, bangles come in all kinds of designs!
Symbolization of Colored Bangles
So what do all the different bangle designs symbolize? Here’s a look at what the various colours mean:
- Red - Energy
- Blue -Tranquillity/Wisdom
- Purple - Independence
- Green - Luck/Married
- Yellow - Happiness
- Orange - Success
- White - New Beginnings
- Black - Power
- Silver - Strength
- Gold - Fortune
Bangles and Married Women
For married women, the significance of bangles takes on a decidedly higher meaning as the wear is considered a must for a married woman in Hindu cultureas well as an important part of Indian bride’s jewellery. In certain communities, there is a custom that says gold bangles should not be worn alone by married women as the bangle should be combined with glass bangles. Popularly known as ‘kaanch ki choodiya’, it symbolizes the well-being of husband and sons. In other communities, women are so superstitious that even when changing bangles, they never allow their arm to be completely bare.
A simple string or even the end of her sari [traditional dress of Hindu women] is wrapped around the arm, until the new set of bangles is worn. Yet in other communities, widows are not allowed to wear glass bangles.
In present times, women, regardless of their marital status will adorn their arms with bangles in all various colours, types, and styles as they believe that the wear of jewellery before or after marriage has no relation to their husband. Hence, bangles or bracelets are worn by fashion conscious girls with as much gusto and style as their mothers and grandmothers wore bangles as a part of tradition.
However, bangles still are a very vital part of weddings and baby showers—aka the bangle ceremony. The ceremony is an event held to ward off evil spirits that might be lurking around the mother-to-be or the baby in the womb. With the mother’s wear of proper bangles, it is believed she will divert evil spirits’ attention from herself and baby to her arms full of bangles (glass, silver, conch, or shell bangles, depending on the region and community), thereby averting danger. The only time that a married woman removes her bangles is either during labour [with child] or when she is widowed. While the former is done for ease of delivery, the latter has tragic connotations. That is why when a glass bangle breaks, it is considered a foreshadowing of bad luck.
Regions of India
Even within India, the traditions of bangles vary from region to region. In West Bengal while most married women wear gold bangles, married women in the eastern state of Bengal wear a pair of white colour shakha (shell) and paula (red coral) bangles as a symbol of marriage.
In the state of Punjab, a bride will wear a set of ivory bangles called chooda on each hand for 21 days, or for a year after marriage, depending on the family tradition.
In Rajasthan, women wear ivory bangles from her wrist to her upper arm for the rest of her life or until her husband passes.
Symbol of Power
In China, jade is the bangle of choice and has been prized for over 7,000 years in the same manner that gold and diamonds are cherished in Western nations. The more jade bangles worn, the clearer, purer, and more powerful it becomes. As with Indian women, the Chinese women adopt the same philosophy that bangles should be worn at all times and if the Jade becomes dull, it means that a lot of negativity or illness is being absorbed the jade. Folk lore dictates that jade bracelets are passed from generation to generation (mother to daughter) as a symbol of their love and protection.
The wear of bangles in India and other Southeaster Asian countries are steeped in traditions. With so many colours, types, designs, and gems, the meanings behind them are just as significant and should not be trivialized. So the next time see a woman full of bangles, you now understand the historical significance and tradition behind the colourful bangle.