Mangalasutra designs in South India
‘The sacred knot’ or the Mangala Sutra, also known in the South as ‘Thaali’ is the most Important symbol of an Indian married woman in the North, West, East and most significantly South India, in both Brahmin and non-brahmin weddings. While the toe-rings, the red sacred powder, ‘Kumkum’ also are equally Important, the sacred thread or chain called ‘Mangala Sutra’ is the one that actually transforms the hitherto ‘Single’ status of the girl to a ‘Married woman’ or ‘wife’ of someone’!
We normally refer to a wedding like this ‘The two have decided to tie the knot’ figuratively it refers to the sacred bonding for Life, together in pain and pleasure, in disease and well-being. Specifically though the turmeric dipped sacred ‘Thaali’ (in the South), is the first , sentimental , Vedic-rich Intimate touch of the groom and the bride, when normally, the bride’s father gives away the bride in holy matrimony, to the man who becomes her husband, her partner and protector , for Life! This ritual is called ‘Kanyadan’ or ‘Kanyadaanam’ ( Tamil), which means giving away the daughter by the father. At weddings, especially in the South, it is the most awaited moment, by the bride’s parents, groom ‘s parents, as well as all the kith and kin present at the wedding Hall. The moment of hysteric and feverish excitement, with tears welling the eyes of the bride’ s mother , her close friends, and the bride herself are worth a watch! also there is a drastic twist in the note played by the musicians on the Nadaswaram, the beats on the accompanying pair of drums ( called the ‘Thavil) have a particular moment of loudness ( as signalled by the Pundit or Poojari or the vadiyar who conducts the rituals). And yes! it has been tied around the bejeweled and heavily garlanded neck of the bride, and everyone is clapping, wishing each other, congratulations pouring from all the sides , and well-wishers and elders sprinkle rice grains soaked in haldi, or turmeric and Vermilon ( Kumkum or red sacred powder), to offer their love, blessings to the newly wed couple! Soon after the three knots are tied ( In Brahmin Weddings, the first knot is tied by the groom and the rest 2 are tied by the sisters of the groom , further strengthening the bond with the new addition to their family). If the groom has one sister, she ties both the knots, and if he has two sisters they share the remaining two. If the groom is a single child with no siblings, then his cousin sisters get the right to tie the remaining knots!
Soon after the thread with a holy pendant in gold ( the thaali) is tied, the groom puts around his brand new wife’s neck , yet another gold thaali where the chain is in pure gold with some opting for traditional designs, and others going for fashionable patterns of the chain, but the pendent or the locket remains the same for each caste conforming to its specifications! It is Indeed Interesting to understand and examine the differences in the Mangala Sutra patterns of different regions across India!
Before we examine the differences in the designs, it is critical to understand the Importance of ‘The Mangala Sutra’ or ‘Thaali’
The phrase ‘three knot tie’ literally means’ ‘an auspicious thread which is knotted around the bride’s neck’. It is usually a gold pendant strung from a yellow thread prepared with turmeric, a string of black beads or simply a gold chain. It is comparable to the wedding ring of the West. A married woman is expected to wear this thread and is the most important part of a Hindu marriage ceremony.
It is called Mangala Sutra in Maharashtra, தாலி (thaali) in Tamil, ತಾಳಿ (thaali) or ಮಾಂಗಲ್ಯ (Mangalyasutra) in Kannada and thaali (తాళి), maangalyamu (మాంగళ్యము), Mangalasutramu (మంగళసూత్రము) or pustelu (పుస్తెలు) in Telugu. Konkanis (Goansand others) wear three necklaces around their necks referred to as “Dhaaremani” or “Muhurtmani” (big golden bead), “Mangalasutra” with one or two gold discs and “Kasithaali” with gold and coral beads. In Malayalam it is simply referred to as “Thaali” in general and “Minnu” by Syrian Christians.
A ‘Thaali’ ( or “Minnu”) is also worn by the brides of Kerala’s Syrian Christian community. An engraving of the holy spirit is a distinguishing feature of the Syrian Christian Minnu. According to tradition, the families of the bride and the bridegroom contribute a piece of gold and melt it with the help of the family goldsmith. This is then used to make the rest of the necklace. The process of tying is assisted by a sister of the groom, as it is with other Hindu communities. During the wedding ceremony, the Minnu is held on and tied using a braided thread made by twisting together seven threads taken from the Manthrakodi (wedding saree).
The practice of wearing a mangala sutra is mainly followed in western Indian and south Indian states.
The Kashmiri Pandits have the distinction of being one of the few Hindu communities that does not have the Thaali as part of its wedding ritual.
Adi Shankara and Mangala Sutra
In his famous book Soundarya Lahari Adi Shankara has mentioned that as per Hindu cultural ethos, the Mangala sutra symbolizes the inseparable bond between a husband and a wife. During the wedding ceremony, the bridegroom ties the Mangala sutra to the neck of the bride uttering- “May you live long by wearing this sacred Mangal sutra, the reason of my life”. Married women are entitled to wear a Mangala sutra throughout their life as it is believed that the practice enhances the well-being of her husband and family. It is also believed that the Mangala sutra protects the marriage from any evil. Three knots symbolize three different aspects of a married woman – the first knot represents her obedience to her husband, the second to his parents and the third represents her respect for God.
Design Variations in Mangala Sutra region-wise: It is very Interesting to see the differences in the design patterns of Mangala Sutra chains across our country. While the Maharashtrian ‘Thaali’ or ‘Mangal Sutra’ is Intricately woven around black beads, and has two gold Inverted cups with pinkish or red tiny stones on them at the centre , as a locket ( with the chain of varying length as per Individual choice), the South Indian Brahmin Thaali’ in Iyers (followers of Lord Shiva), has a ‘Shivalingam’ on one said of the dome shaped pendant, and next to it the figure of Madurai Meenakshi amman or goddess who symbolizes a perfect and holy matrimony with her husband Lord Sundareswarar, and in Vaishnavites or the Iyengars the dome shaped pendant is the same, but has the figurines of ‘Sangu’ ( conch shell) and ‘Chakram’ ( the wheel), these symbolize the elegant arms of Lord Vishnu, and also has Goddess Lakshmi who is his wife. The Chettiars are a Shaivite sect of merchants in Tamil Nadu, the central pendant (thaali) depicts Shiva with his consort Parvati. The Mangalorean ‘Thaali’ has most definitely black beads woven on a gold chain and is alternated with either rounded or oval shaped Corals ( red, precious beads). The ‘Thaali ‘ of the Karnataka brides is similar with black beads and gold with a pendant, and may either have corals or not. The ‘Karnataka’ Mangal Sutra of the Smartha and Madhwa Brahmins bear a striking resemblance to the Maharashtrian Thaali, since Pandharpur, Belgaum, etc are on Maharashtra border, so most customs are similar, like the green glass bangles, along with her gold bangles, worn by the bride on the wedding day. The ‘Coorgi’ thaali is very very majestic and typical band-like chain with huge rounded beads that symbolize the ‘Malanad or Kodagu Warrior ‘ community. The Thaali is called ‘Pathaak’ and it is tied by the bride’s mother around the bride’s neck. The Kerala bride usually wears a simple ‘Thaali’ in gold with a tiny leaf as its pendant, and the figurine of baby Krishna at the center ( Krishna is the undisputed Lord for the Keralites). The Syrian Christians of Kerala also adorn a thaali besides the wedding ring, but with a cross at the center.
The essence of Mangala Sutra or Thaali: Whatever be the design or figurines Inscribed on the sacred chain worn by a bride on her wedding day, called the ‘Mangala Sutra’ or ‘Thaali’ the underlying essence is the bonding of the bride with her spouse for life, in the best or worst situation.