Donna and Joe have finished their assignment in India. Occasionally they still travel somewhere.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Married Lady in India

In India, almost all married women have a gold necklace as a symbol of their marriage. It is given to her at the wedding by her husband and traditionally is never taken off, much like an wedding ring. Indians also view gold jewelry as an investment. This is a country where many people still have no bank account and handle their finances entirely on a cash basis. Since it is an investment, most of the gold jewelry is 22 carat gold, (91% gold). In the U.S. lower percentages are common because pure gold is very soft and very expensive.

For our anniversary Donna and I went out together and picked out a wedding necklace for her. The style of necklace varies with the part of the country and this one with a chain of black and gold beads is typical of Karnataka (the state where we live), as well as many others.

When you are looking at gold jewelry and you ask the price, first thing the salesman does is to plunk it on a scale and announce it's weight. Then he will look at the tag, pull out his electronic calculator and calculate a price based on today's gold price. The design aspect of it doesn't seem to come into the equation! (The artist in Donna finds this very cold and disconcerting!) Most shops will have the daily price of gold posted; in one shop they had an electronic sign with the daily prices of gold and silver, along with the exchange rates for U.S. dollars, euros, British pounds and Japanese yen. When you buy a black bead necklace, there is a separate number for how much of the weight is comprised of the onyx beads. These are priced at a different amount. After the weight of beads is subtracted from the total weight, they figure out how much the gold part costs, and how much the beads cost, and add them up. Wedding necklaces seem to traditionally come in either this short 18" length, or 24"long one, that is often worn under clothing, or below other special occasion necklaces.

Our housekeeper, Jaya's, husband is from Tamil Nadu. They use only gold chains on their necklace. Her necklace has 3 tali's (symbols) on it. The symbol for Tamil Nadu is a rectangular shape with two points on one end, and one on the other. (It looks very painful to roll over onto when you're sleeping!) The other 2 tali's are coin-like disks that have symbols of a god on them. These are used in Karnataka, as well as the half-sphere designs we saw at a previous wedding. They are almost always tied onto the bride by the groom with 3 knots of a golden cord during the wedding. (This seems to be the "I now pronounce you man and wife" moment.) Sometimes the bride wears them on only the cord for the first year and then they are attached to a gold necklace. Nowdays it seems more common to have the gold cord attached to the gold necklace at the wedding. (The talis on the long necklaces are seldom seen outside the sari, and thus seem more private, but Donna says most people seem happy to show them to her when she inquires.)

I included the next picture so you can see the whole sari. Donna and I are getting better at wrapping her in a sari. Getting the pleats to be straight and even is the part where an assistant is very helpful. We can now accomplish it in about 15 minutes with hardly any cussing.


Switching subjects, and authors:

These boys come around to the apartment complex after school and go through the garbage to find any recyclable that they can sell. Sometimes one of the boy's father is with them, or a friend. I usually invite them up to our apartment to pick up any other recycling we may have. Usually I can also give them a little money and/or a snack. Lately they have been reminding me that they are Christian and Christmas is coming. Hindu children get presents at Diwali, which just passed, they didn't get anything. One is always barefoot, and it is worrying to see him going through the garbage with no protection for his feet. (What's the best way to get him shoes?)

After reading a book on recycling and the role of "ragpickers" in the recycling system of India, I contemplated trying to set up a separate place for storage of recyleables. However, if they were clean and easy to pick up, it seems like many staff members would just help themselves to them, leaving nothing for the truly poor, for whom it is often their only income. So until I think of something better, I will at least make sure they get only clean sanitary recyleables from me.

Like many children on the street, they greet Luna by name, or will call friends over to introduce her, pointing out that she can (bow) Namaskara (Hello). She is getting a reputation and quite a following.
Donna & Joe

19 comments:

Rachna said...

Hi,

I am a Bangalorean, brought up in Mumbai and a North-Indian by birth. I found your blog quite fascinating. I especially liked this tale about the mangalsutra :). The mangalsutra looks different for us North Indians. I have one which I mostly wear at functions or festivals. I do take it off and don't wear it with any of my western clothes. You would find many modern Indian women doing that.

Actually, I find all the symbols of marriage of an Indian woman very beautiful and fascinating - the bindi, the sindoor, the mangalsutra and so on.

Warm regards,
Rachna

Karen said...

Donna, you look lovely in your beautiful sari. I also love the necklace that you picked out and cant wait to see it in person. Thanks for the great explanations of the wedding traditions. You are indeed fortunate to go to so many as you learn something different at them all and the traditions do seem very beautiful. Take care, Karen

Boston 123 said...

Yes, the 'Tali' or mangalsutra is the equivalent of a wedding (ring)band in the west... although I suspect more married women take off the Tali, than married women take off their wedding bands in the west. The funny thing is, women feel extremely guilty if something happens to their husbands and they are ( coincidentally)not wearing their Tali's.
BTW, your Sari looks awesome!. But who is the 'we' in draping the sari? Is it Joe? That would be such a achievement, because I doubt any Indian men know anything about draping a sari on their better halves !!

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Donna said...

Yes, Indeed. It is Joe who helps me with the pleats on my sari. You can see the whole "Sari Tale" of my first experience putting on a sari if you search for that on the blog search line.

Hey, if you go to a foreign country, you have to act as a team!
Donna

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