This was an advertisement I saw in Face Book today:
Mangalsutra – Buy 1 get 1 free!
What is the fuss? What is a ‘Mangalsutra’?
It is the Indian equivalent of the wedding ring, but unlike the wedding rings, this chain-with-a-pendant(s) is worn solely by the wife. Every community in India (irrespective of religion) has its own version of this ornament that signifies that you carry your husband close to your heart. You can look it up on Wikipedia here.
In my family, making of a Mangalsutra is a ceremony by itself. After the wedding date has been set (with or without the agreement/acknowledgement of bride and groom), a ‘holy’ day is chosen to cast this all-important pendant that carries more weight than its mere weight in gold. Yes, it is cast out of 22 carat gold. This gold may partly be contributed by the groom’s ancestors or could be purchased completely new. It has to be the groom, though, that pays for it.
Of course, the melting and the final casting will be done by an artisan who has been doing this for at least 25 years, if not more – he has to be a master goldsmith. Because, the belief is, if not done with a pure heart and holy blessings and in the right manner, it could make or break a marriage.
And you thought making of the ‘One Ring’ was difficult! Move over, Sauron!
So once the date has been set for the melting/casting, the master goldsmith (who probably has been casting these pendants for the family all his life) has been prepped and all necessary items for the ceremony has been purchased, the bride’s family is invited to be part of the ceremony. Now, I have forgotten the exact ritual that has to be performed but I remember that there has to be only odd number of people present at the ceremony itself – no, not odd people, odd number of people!
The Goldsmith then performs the ritual (some times with the help of a priest) and then melts and casts the pendant which is then threaded into a special thread coated with the holy turmeric powder. This yellow spice signifies blessings of the Goddess that the bond between the husband and wife remain strong forever. The pendant itself carries symbols of the groom’s caste/community/family deities. There maybe other additional golden pendants and beads attached to this depending on the wealth, status and belief of the family. In my family, they wear two beads on either side to make sure that the pendant doesn’t slide around all the time and wear itself out (we are a pragmatic bunch).
On the wedding day, this chain will then be placed and passed around in a plate with rice and other holy items to be blessed by all that is present. The brother of the bride/groom walks along to make sure no one nicks the gold. Then the big moment – at an auspicious time which does depend on the inclination of the various planets, no really, it does – the groom ties three knots around his wife’s neck with the help of his mother &/ sister who ties the last knot to symbolize welcoming the bride into their women’s circle.
Sheryl Sandberg, take notice: our women were ‘Leaning-in’, even before your book came out.
So a freshly-minted bride has, along with a shy smile and a fluttering heart, a chain that indicates her bond with her husband. After a few days (I forgot how many), the yellow thread is replaced with a golden chain to make sure that the thread does not break and cast ill-luck upon the couple. Finally, the marriage is done and all and sundry can go home to wherever they came from and stop eating at the family’s expense.
Just for your information, once tied, these three knots signify bonding for the next seven births!!! Now, you know why you should really think thrice before going down on your knees and popping the question!
All satire aside, I love this ritual and the meaning it implies. To have some one to love and cherish as a partner, is the ultimate truth everyone is looking for, even in Quentin Tarantino movies! It is all about a happy relationship! And what can be more beautiful than making this connection with a beautifully wrought ornament made of Gold, the noblest of metals that do not tarnish with time!
Now, about that advertisement again. What does this ‘Buy 1 Get 1 Free’ indicate?
2 guys + 1 woman = the woman gets 2 Mangalsutras
1 guy + 2 women = the women get one Mangalsutra each
Or, a radical idea – I am hoping that this is the case:
the bride and the groom wear one each and thus bring gender equality into Indian marital relationships!
Whether the match is made in heaven or not, you can probably now afford the ‘Mangalsutras’ made in China! May it last the seven births!
ps: Please note, I am not against Chinese products at all – I love China and I admire the hard-working chinese. I think China (if you disregard the human-rights abuse which is a crime committed by a few against many) is a great example of how to turn a country around.
pps: And if you ever want to take away my chinese-made iPhone/iPad – over my dead body!!!