Feminine, colourful, extravagant, there are so many words that can be used to describe the Indian bangle. From the evergreen Sri Devi to the bold Kareena Kapoor Khan, there has at least been one unforgettable song about choodis or bangles sung by the Bollywood divas during their glamorous careers. “Mere Haatho Mein Naw Naw Chudiyan Hain”, “Bole Chudiyan”, “Kangna Re”, Bollywood has always romanticized the female wrist and her sublime beauty in its tunes. And not just in entertainment, the diverse ethno-Indian culture itself has spun grand creations to adorn a woman’s wrist with bangles, thanks to the creativity of the jewellers.
Historically, bangles have been made from a variety of materials including sea shells, chalcedony, copper, bronze, silver and gold. The evidence of this ornament existing dates as far back to 2600 BC when the famous Mohenjodaro bronze dancing girl statuette was excavated from the site. Later, several pairs of gold bangles have been excavated from the remains of the ancient Mauryan empire in the site of Taxila. Of course, as cultures individualized by regions, the designs and the materials used to make the bangles altered over time, and thus gained a distinct character unique to that region.
Types OF Bangles
Indian culture boasts of different designs of bangles depending on the region, and of course, thanks to the innovations of the jewellery designers. It goes without saying that bangles form an essential part of any Indian bride’s trousseau.
• In Bengal, the brides wear the symbolic Shakha-Pola as a symbol of matrimony. The Shakhas are white in colour and made of conch shells while Pola is red and made of red coral. Besides the sindhur, it is the most important part of the Bengali bride’s look. Besides that, there is also the Loha, which is often called Noa, and these are made of iron with an inner filigree of gold. The significance of these bangles lies in the belief that they impart long life, good fortune and safety to the newlyweds.
• Among the Sikhs, there is the tradition where the bride’s father gives a single iron bangle to the groom, called the kada. A symbol of courage and strength, the kada is worn in respect to an age-old tradition of faith in protection. For the Sikh bride, the maternal uncle of the bride gives her two sets of red and white bangles called the chooda.
• Perhaps the most colourful variations of bangles are witnessed in the wrists of the Rajasthani bride. With a burst of colours of red, meaning love, yellow, meaning joy, and green, meaning prosperity, these bangles are made from kundan, lac or meenakari designs.
• For the Maharashtrian bride, the voluminous sets of green bangles are a symbol of happy matrimony. Alongwith the royal gold of their jewellery in their kangans and necklaces, the green bangles play an integral role for maintaining the age-old traditions.
• Again, in Gujarat, the play of colours continue from its ancient Rajputi culture where the bride is embellished with gold bangles with intricate meenakari designs or inlaid gemstones to signify the colours of yellow, red, green and white. This is often given as a traditional heirloom by the mother of the bride on her wedding day.
• The brides of Kerala wear exquisite gold bangles with multiple filigree and designs without any gemstone or coloured ornamentation, as per their traditions to signify luxury and prosperity. These are pure gold bangles, unlike the glass bangles worn in other states, like Rajasthan.
• The consistent dash of colours is also observed in Marwari and Tamilian brides who, besides the traditional gold, use the colours of green, red and white and pink. Often, pearls and other gemstones are inlaid in the bangles.
• Besides such choodis, the kangans are also prevalent. These are a pair of gold bangles that come as a set, and are also referred to as the bala in Bengal and Orissa.
• There are also the baju baandh or the arm bands which are worn as amulets. Although not as common in the present days, the baju baandhs worn on the midsection of the forearm, are important pieces of traditional historic jewellery of eastern and southern Indian states.
Of course, bangles are not just relegated to bridal jewellery. They are worn in multiple occasions and often associated with good fortune. The universality of bangles can be evidenced by his availability in a multitude of designs and materials, ranging from the simplistic and elegant to the gorgeous and extravagant. Gold, silver, platinum, silver, oxidized silver, glass—these are the variety of materials used to manufacture bangles. Their designs, including the gems used, and sometimes their shapes may vary, but the essential wrist-encompassing feature is a constant, only varying in the case of cuff bracelets.
Be it the east or the west, a woman’s wrist is a nigh constant romantic muse for the artists. From painters to poets, man has always been in love with the tender femininity of the female wrists, and eulogized it in colours and words. However, it is the jewellers who literally adorn the female wrist with a myriad of adornments. Bangles have indeed taken multiple appearances across culture and time, and yet it continues to outshine almost any other piece of jewellery by its presence alone. Thus it is no secret that be it the Bollywood divas of the 60s and 70s to the ones ruling the industry now, the bangle has always been their best friend. From Rani Mukherjee’s love for pearl-inlaid bangles to Deepika Padukone’s bridal gold kangans and bangles during her wedding last year, bangles, termed from the Hindi ‘bungri’, meaning glass, are forever.