Reinterpreting the mangalsutra
One of the customs at a Hindu wedding ceremony is the groom giving a mangal sutra to the bride. The age old custom still finds a place in today’s wedding ceremonies. Yet, to keep up with changing lifestyles, the custom has evolved to find a place in modern times, and yet not lose any of its meaning.
What is a mangal sutra? Literally speaking, mangal means auspicious, and sutra means thread. So basically it’s a sacred thread which symbolizes the newly changed status of a woman after her marriage.
Historically, the mangal sutra dates back to the 6th century AD. According to Kolkatta based Senco Gold’s Joita Sen’s research findings, the tradition of presenting a mangal sutra to the bride started in the southern part of India, then moved west, and then to the northern part of the country. The mangal sutra got incorporated into the wedding ceremony during the 6th century AD. Traditionally a mangal sutra was not worn by all the communities in India, but wherever they are worn culturally, there was a lot of community specific nuances attached to it, and depending on which community you belonged to, where you belonged in the community, and your stature in the community, there was a certain kind of mangal sutra that a person was supposed to adorn. Traditionally, the mangal sutra was a single or double line of black beads and gold.
Initially, the mangal sutra served a dual purpose - one to show the change of status, and the other was to ward off the evil eye (hence the black beads on the chain). Besides love, commitment, protection and warding of the evil eye, the mangal sutra is also considered to be stree dhan. In earlier times, the mangal sutra used to be quite heavy in terms of weight, and it was something that the woman would have in her possession. “Mangal sutras are deeply rooted in our culture, but over the years the product has gained renewed meaning for Indian women. There are various factors associated with the mangal sutra, which over a period of time has evolved, and people have found their own simplicity, and have reinterpreted it to be able to carry it off in the present environment. Women now prefer to choose designs that not only represent their community, but is also an extension of their personality and belief system,” says Abhishek Rastogi, Head of product design, research and trends - Tanishq & Zoya.
Over the last 15 years or so the design of the mangal sutra has evolved. Tanmaniyas and thaalis are the two traditional styles of the pendants on a mangal sutra. The traditional thaalis are preferred, but within the concept of the thaali, the design started changing. Today, keeping the concept of the thaali, jewelers are working on the diamond pendant. “Keeping the concept of the thaali in mind, we are putting double solitaires in the mangal sutra,” says Joita Sen, director and head of marketing & design, Senco Gold and Diamonds. “Young Indian women are interested in investing in solitaires. People want it in the mangal sutra. So the concept is traditional, but the design is very new age,” she adds. These mangal sutras accessorise well with western outfits which women working in offices can wear.
A solitaire mangal sutras is something which is both aspirational and popular. Here, the central tanmaniya gets replaced with a clean minimal looking solitaire. “It is something that is very wearable and minimal to be adorned on a day to day basis, and also very versatile because it goes with many attires,” says Tanishq’s Rastogi. Another shift that has taken place in the category is the caratage of gold. While traditional mangal sutras were made in 22 carat gold, and they continue to do so, the modern diamond versions of the mangal sutra are made in 18 carat gold.
With design changes the mangal sutra has become an everyday wear jewellery item. Over the years, as thoughts, lifestyle and fashions have changed, and an increasing number of women have entered the workforce, the heavy, long mangal sutra started changing its form. Television serials and social media have opened up the mind set in a big way. “I will not be able to put a date to it, but I think daily soaps played a huge role in bringing mangal sutras to limelight, and this humble age-old accessory all of a sudden became fashionable too. The mangal sutra was suddenly seen as a category that a lady could wear every day, and all the time of the day. That opened the doors to a larger audience. Communities that were not traditionally wearing the mangal sutra began to see it as a must have category that holds significance, not only from the fashion aspect, but for all the sentimental values associated with it. Today it would not be wrong to say that mangal sutra has become a pan India appeal category,” he adds.
Tanishq’s new mangal sutra campaign, ‘Dor’, is a modern silhouette combined with traditional craftsmanship and mantras. It incorporates the seven vows taken during the saath pheras a couple takes during the wedding. The vows are discretely inscribed on each product, making it personal to the wearer. “We wanted to find a balance between what to take from the past, and how to reinterpret it for the future. So we looked at the seven vows taken during the wedding saat pheras and artistically inscribed them on our mangal sutra designs in a way that is discreet and very personal. We, however, kept the overall styling extremely bold and modern,” says Rastogi. The ‘Dor’ range has a balance of functionality, elegance and versatility that will appeal to the sensibilities of the young millennial brides who have an essence of modernity, yet are strongly embedded in traditions. These fresh designs are both quirky, and fun. “We wanted that to come into our mangal sutra designs so that they are still relevant for today, they still can be worn on many more occasions, and it need not be hidden under the shirt. It can definitely come out of the shirt, and one can definitely boast about it,” says Rastogi.
As we talk about the changing times, and how people have adapted the mangal sutra, the category has moved away from being just a neckwear category, to being adapted to a bracelet or a finger ring. What is intrinsic to the mangal sutra? The intrinsic thing about the mangal sutra are its black beads. It’s a category that people are warming up to in an exciting new way, and it is something that is becoming popular. “As the interest in the category is growing, we are also seeing interesting new interpretations of the same surfacing up. For some women even a chain with one black bead solves the purpose of a mangal sutra! So yes, it has evolved into bracelets; and bracelets in fact is a very popular and practical way of adorning those black beads amongst younger women. I won’t call it mangal sutra because the moment you say mangal sutra, you understand it to be worn around the neck. You can call it a black bead bracelet which may complement your mangal sutra,” says Rastogi.
The mangal sutra is one of those categories that have stood the test of time. Through various cultures, cities, traditions; from the most ornate north Indian mangal sutras, or the vati mangal sutras you get in the west and south, or the simple very elegant modern diamond versions of the mangal sutras, the relevance continues to be there. In fact, the mindset of the modern Indian woman is very interesting. While she is deeply rooted in tradition, she also moves with the times. “Mangal sutras are a form of tradition, and it has to be made relevant with not just traditional wear, but modern wear as well. The concept of traditional modernity is what Indian women are looking for. The form, the designs, the concepts may change, but the tradition will continue,” says Senco’s Sen.
Tanishq’s Rastogi agrees. “I would say that mangal sutra as a category has always been very relevant, because of the value it holds. People have found new ways of adorning them, but it has always been a sentimental category, and has always been bought for that,” says Rastogi. “The traditions continue to exist, and traditions continue to be taken forward. It’s just that the millennials and the younger consumers find newer meanings in the mangal sutra, and new ways of wearing it. Though it has evolved, it continues to exist in its old avatar as well,” he adds.