From the very first minute I landed in India, so many years back, I felt immediately at home. Part of that emotion derived from my impression of Indian women and how they looked. I was very young and I admit that I had a romantic notion but it came from my observation of Indian women and the country’s ubiquitous abundance of ornamentation. Wherever one looked in India, it was color that surrounded you and swirls of arabesques, onion domes, every surface filled in with dots, dashes and chevrons, trucks decorated like Grandma Moses paintings and women covered in jewelry from head to toe. All this enchanted me and still does.
The world I had just left was one of functionalism, minimalism and neutrals: the very opposite of India. My collection of long, flowing skirts and armfuls of bangle bracelets grew as I explored this exciting and welcoming country. To this day, so many years later, the Indian aesthetic influences me. It celebrates the pleasure of being female in a way that I find very natural: the desire to ornament oneself. The origins of this aesthetic is probably rooted in a time when women wore their wealth: their dowry and it
evolved from there.
There is nothing I enjoy more than shopping in any one of India’s many bazaars, especially in the state of Rajasthan where the mesmerizing selection of merchandise taunts and teases all women passing by. I have a weakness for bangle bracelets. When I see the rows and rows of sparkling bracelets lined up, gleaming in a profusion of color, I stop in my tracks and cannot resist.
On a recent excursion, I was standing outside a bangle shop on “Bangle Row” and of course, to my delight, a man standing at the entrance welcomed me in. There was barely space for me to sit down but that didn’t seem to matter. The women made room for me and seemed to enjoy their shopping as much as I did. The specialty of the region are bangles made from “lac,” a brittle clay-like substance. The bracelets are warmed over a charcoal brazier and then molded as seen in this photo I took while shopping. United in our enthusiasm to make the perfect selection, the women easily forgot my foreign presence. The salesmen made their pitches, presenting a plethora of choices, one more enticing than the next.
Traditionally, Indian bangles are worn in matching pairs on both wrists. They are made from a myriad of materials, from 22 carat gold to glass. The tinkle and jingle of a woman’s bangles is part of their mystique and often mentioned in poetry and myths. The more costly the material, the more melodious the sound. It is a bad omen for a married woman to have bare wrists as it reflects her husband status and thus would be an insult to him and his family. When a woman’s husband dies, she smashes her (glass) bangles as an act of mourning.
Over the years, I haven’t been required to smash my bangles but I certainly have broken my fair share of them, often waking up with a minor bleeding scratch. They can clearly serve more than one purpose and be a source of attraction and defense!